The immense contribution of the Italian poets and authors has remained underestimated due to the lack of public knowledge concerning their legendary contribution towards the understanding of the Italian history, culture, virtues, and politics.1
Dante Alighieri is one of the most renowned poets and authors who earmarked a new era in the Italian writing industry through his novelty in writing plays and books that portrayed the Italian history. Dante existed in Italy during the pre-colonial period when Italy was experiencing extreme political intolerances and extensive attrition among the racially divided communities.2
An exposure to such political circumstances impelled Dante to use his artistic knowledge to design an epic poem featuring political themes. The Divine Comedy is one of his impressive poems, where he transferred the ideas of political animosities into elegant poetic themes. This paper explores the political themes found in the Divine Comedy especially in the three major poems: Inferno, Purgatorio, and the Paradiso.
The Political Vision of Dante in the Divine Comedy
During the 14th century, the nation of Italy witnessed a comeback of a political and religious confusion.3 Italy has historically associated the national leadership with certain religious values enshrined in the Christian doctrine of the Roman churches. Since time immemorial, the political culture of the Italian nation dwelled on the interaction between the state politicians and the leaders of the Roman Catholic Churches.
During the era of Dante in the 1300s, popularly known as the papacy regime, the Italian nation was experiencing serious political shambles.4 The political wrangles permeated the Empires, the Kingdoms, and the Italian States, when the French crown and the Roman Catholic political leaders disagreed on the location of the pope offices.
Since the Italian nation consisted of a diverse group of individuals, the secular authority and the ecclesiastical leaders clashed in their opinions.5 Dante saw the Italian nation and its people divided into certain sociopolitical groups due to the political instabilities of his country during the era of 1303s and 1305s.
The Italian nation during the era of Dante stood divided into two political categories allied to either the Guelph or the Ghibellines political frameworks. Whereas the initial political frameworks of the two political parties represented the middle class people who were advocating for democracy, the time of Dante saw political attritions that no ordinary person could describe the traits of these individuals.6
The Guelph political party supported the pope and had a tendency of favoring Pope Boniface VIII, who acted against the will of his fellow Roman Catholic Christians. Conversely, the Ghibellines supported the political ideas of the incumbent emperors and such issues created a racial separation between the White Guelph and the Blacks in the metropolitan city of Florence.
Having undergone traumatizing moments under the regime of the Blacks in the exile due to his political stand in the Italian political scene, Dante had several political issues to discuss in his poem, the Divine Comedy.7
Dante had the true experience of the political anguish that resulted from the political issues that marred the Italians. Dante thought the best way to describe the political animosities that were happening during that time was through his poem composing abilities.
While in exile, Dante had an inner passion for good governance and a humorous leadership, and had always wanted to advocate for a charismatic headship that most of the Italian leaders lacked.8 Through his book, The Divine Comedy, Dante thought that the human society in the political realm is different and need to fall into certain unique categories.
Through this epic poem, Dante categorized the human society in the political realm in three distinct groups, namely, the Purgatorio, Paradiso, and the Inferno.9 Dante expressed the political overtones resulting from the ungracious and malicious leaders and expressed his sentiments concerning the implications of the bad influence of these leaders over the human society.
To make the poem more understandable, the three versions of the poems articulated in the Divine Comedy of Dante present the most important themes that Dante wanted to present in his poem.10 Dante mentions Purgatorio as one of the categories of the human society where the political separations were taking place.
Paradiso according to Dante in his imaginative journey of the afterlife is the ideal human society, where people possess all the essential components to live a harmonious life.11
Purgatorio is another important human society in the poem that Dante considers as a community of dwellers in the transition stage of life, but living in a confused state, lacking religious wisdom, and always struggling to shift from self-centeredness to selflessness.12 The Inferno phase of the life after death is hell where punishment to the sinners such as Judas Iscariot and Brutus is hell, especially when they deny living a holy life.
Purgatorio and Political Issues and Themes
Dante mentioned the word Purgatorio as one of the main elements of his poem to describe certain groups of the human society. In the Italian language, purgatorio, just as in the English language purgatory, describes the intermediate life of human beings after their physical death.13
Dante uses the word purgatorio to describe the category of people in the human society that are in the transition stage of life, but virtually lacking an organized and an effective structure to transform from their selfish lives.14 The purgatorio section of the poem of the Divine Comedy has a series of political themes and facts that Dante wanted to express in his writing.
The people living in the purgatorio section of the human afterlife are those with political voracity, political maliciousness, and often use their power influence to manipulate others.15 Sociopolitical lust, greed, and selfishness are the most eminent themes that people in the Purgatorio section of the afterlife are fond of portraying.
Purgatorio: Lust in the Italian Politics
Dante claims that the human society in the transition phase of life that he calls Purgatorio has a political framework based on greediness, selfishness, and lust. Dante mentions Sodom and Gomorrah, which were the biblical names that reflect a human society marred with prostitution, lust, and infidelity.16
The Italian empires, leadership kingdoms, and the States, had leaders that promulgated a social life of lust and prostitution.17 Dante reveals that the people in the purgatorio human society lack confidence to remove their selfish bodily desires, their inner motives towards sexuality, and their negative influence on others.18
The purgatorio section of the human society involves men and women living a life of prestige and prosperity that gives them powerful influence on their moral actions. Affluence and political power, influenced these prosperous women and men to have a domineering sociopolitical influence on others in the Purgatorio human society, to either follow certain life directions, or towards their immoral ways.19
In the poem, Dante explained that the greatest civil sins that occur in politics and sociopolitical overtones result in suicide and heresy, with the church considering civil sins more ferocious than the underestimated religious sins.20
The people living in the Purgatorio phase of life are living in political fantasies and the minority end up suffering from the powerful influence of the political kingpins. The lifestyles of the ordinary families reveal a life of economically depressed individuals who dwell on policies and rules, purposely designed for the prosperous and not the poor.21
Dante felt that the manipulative powers of politicians ruined the social harmony and caused social disorder. The political actions of individuals seemed guided by the disarray souls of politicians who were generating political influence and wealth for their own selfish desires.22
Achilles died because of infidelity, Princes Paris and Tristan, lustily stole the wives of the Kings, leading to serious national troubles.
Purgatorio: Greediness in the Italian Politics
Dante thought that the political frameworks that the politicians designed were literally for the benefit of the minority few in the political scene. The purgatory phase of life is where individuals have the ability to shun away from their personal malice, but have often failed to anchor to a framework that allows them to transform.23
Dante exclaims, “Because thy father and thyself have suffered, by greed of those transalpine lands detrained, the garden of the empire to be waste.”24 Political frameworks and politicians have divided individuals in the human society and made them focus on personal matters rather than the interest of the society.25
The above exclamation of Dante reveals the power of politics in dividing people to have personal interests on wealth, land, precious items, and prosperity rather than the common good of the societies. Dante connects his political illusions concerning greediness with the actions of the biblical Judas who betrayed Jesus for silver.26
Politicians and some religious leaders fell in the category of greedy or gluttonous people who occupied the purgatory phase of life. Dante claims that the negative contribution of a church or any religion in the political realm is offensive to the religious doctrines, as some church individuals have used these state-religion relationships for their personal gains.27
The human society has remained confused since the majority of the followers of Christians consider religions honest. The responsibilities of the church leaders to lead the followers spiritually seem to shift from the consideration of community needs to individual attention towards wealth, pleasure, and power.28
The sociopolitical overtone of greediness makes a few individuals superrich, while the majority civilians languish in destitute poverty and insolvency. Selfish motivation on wealth is an evil deed that puts not only those politicians involved in troubles, but also affects the vision of others towards having a positive national future. Politicians are greedy and can barely spur national growth.29
The Hell: Political Treachery
The section of the human society in the Purgatorio phase are people with ambitions of change, but are lacking a straightforward structure to withdraw from their treacherous, violent, and fraudulent political lives. Dante expresses his intrinsic fear concerning the animosities present in the leadership of Italy where politicians are exercising manipulation over the extreme population.30
The political environment of Italians was treacherous, and the politicians were capable of using deceive and cheat tricks on the uninformed majority to have certain political gains.
The political treachery that the politicians use to manipulate the uninformed majority in the sociopolitical arena makes the citizens confused and mystified against their personal decisions towards good lives.31 Dante reveals that politicians are the people destroying the harmonious living of the people in the Purgatorio phase of life as they use deceiving techniques to manipulate the populations.
Leaders of the Italian nation demonstrate ill will against the nation and contribute to increase in fraud, corruption, and deception. The characters concerned with the political issues of Italy, both religious and political, practiced graft that ruined the economic stability of the Italian nation.32
Dante discusses the involvement of politicians in civil sins that include corruption, deception, and fraud that initially destabilized the status of the Italian economy. In the inferno section of the poem, Dante scoffed the corrupt leaders such as Caucus who stole herds of cattle from his own people and caused bloodshed on the Mount Aventine.33
Dante claimed that Caucus led with “hypocrisy, flattery, and dealt with magic, falsification, theft, and simony.” Dante believed that the politicians who saturated Florence and other Italian cities had a complicated character, with a complete lack of moral uprightness.34 Politicians of the era of Dante used their political influence to dispossess people of their valued native morals and planted corruption, fraud, and dishonesty in them.
The Hell: Violence and Injustice in Politics
The hell or the inferno section of the human society involves individuals driven by personal selfish desires and not the common good of all individuals in a human society. Dante expressed his inner anger and passion against the influence of politics and the politicians in the violence that the human society experienced.35
One of the biggest categories of sinners in the nine chambers of the structure of hell according to the arrangement of Dante is violence. The violence class of sinners in hell is the people, who caused atrocities against their neighbors, friends, themselves, and even God.36
“A death by violence, and painful wounds, are to our neighbor given; and in his substance ruin, and arson, and injurious levies.”37 The political concern about the violence that marred the Italians in the city of Florence is the unfair taxation that politicians instigated and orchestrated against the innocent Italian population due to their own selfish political desires.38
The city of Florence had violent leaders who caused anguish to the people, destroyed public property, denied others justice, and caused psychological and physical torture to the human population.39 The rulers in the city of Florence practiced laws and policies that favored their malicious plans in the government and subjected the human society to poverty, diseases, racial hatred, and alienation.
Dante expresses the state of aggression by saying, “perchance indeed by violence of palsy, someone has been thus wholly turned awry.”40 People retrogressed because of the poor political plans of the politicians who ruled with malice and not charisma. Instead of developing economically, violence tore the Florence City apart, causing some serious economic, social, and cultural depletion.41
Dante describes the retrogression of the underprivileged in the cities by saying,” and backward it behooved them to advance, as to look forward had been taken from them.”42 Politicians acted like people who deserved hell according to Dante.43
The Hell: Political Flattery and Hypocrisy
The inferno section of the poem describes the human society that comprises of politicians and malicious humans with flattery and hypocrisy behaviors. The struggle between religious powers and control over the national governance and the contribution of the leaders from the secular authority is what disturbs Dante while classifying the people in the inferno section of human society as hypocritical.44
Dante laments that the religion and the secular communities have formed a complex mixture within the Italian societies and made it difficult to understand who between them has a genuine political intention in the empire leadership.45
The nine circles of hell that Dante describes as the place of different sinners portray the people of flattery and hypocrisy as those with false piety like the politicians. Dante indicates that politicians would use their dirty techniques on civilians to proclaim power and authority over the human society.46
The leaders of the church such as Pope Boniface VIII involved in the politics acted with hypocrisy and flattery against the innocent population of the people of the Florence city. The rulers who fought for the empire leadership acted with pretence concerning the underway corruption and wrangles concerning the Italian States.
The French King Philip IV and Pope Boniface VIII deceivably convinced the citizens that they were fighting for the goodness of the clergy in France.47 However, the two individuals confronted each other because they wanted to claim power on the clergy in France.48
The church distanced itself from corruption and pointed out that the church consisted of holy leaders who were only interested in reprimanding the graft witnessed in the government.49 Nonetheless, there existed an ongoing graft in the churches and the secular authority also reprimanded, but it often went unnoticed because of the creed influence the church had over the Christian community.
The Hell: Hierarchies in the Italian Empires
The poem of Dante describes the political leadership where authority and power are components of leadership that twisted the Italian cities into violence and internal aggression.50 The Italian leadership expressed a form of governance that falls under the authoritarian form of leadership, where the powers and hierarchies between the individuals and the society, are important portions of decision-making.51
The era of Papacy saw the Italian nation split, because of the rigid hierarchies and powers that the church leadership and emperors practiced. The national rules and regulations depicted an authoritarian leadership, which seemed to favor the rich politicians and oppress the economically underprivileged.52
“She can no longer move me, by that law which, when I issued forth from there, was made.” The leaders made rules by themselves, and for themselves, to oppress the poor in the human society.53 Dante believes that such leaders deserve the hell section, because of the animosities and oppression they inflict on the innocent human society.
The work of Dante in the Divine Comedy concerning the political issues that marred the Italian empires and kingdoms during the 1300s reflects true leadership problems that have persisted in many nations since the evolution of the humankind. The Divine Comedy highlights several political themes and issues that proliferated within the Kingdoms and empires of the Italian cities.
Authoritarian leadership marked by lust, greed, hypocrisy, manipulation, corruption, fraud, flattery, bloodshed, heresy and other moral mishaps, disturbed Dante in his life. Dante feels that the true character of politicians is complex, and not easy to define from a layperson’s perspective.
Politicians demonstrate their real characters, but use their political powers to rob the innocent people of justice, their rights to the good life, their rights to good health, and their rights to genuine leadership. Neither the church leadership, nor the secular leadership, has a definite space in heaven due to their actions.
Alexander, Jason. “Dante Understands of the Two Ends of Human Desire and the Relationship between Philosophy and Theology.” The Journal of Religion 91, no. 2 (2011): 158-187.
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Longfellow, Henry. “The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri.” An Electronic Classics Series Publication 1, no. 1 (2005): 7-382.
Marco, Andreacchio. “Unmasking Limbo: Reading Inferno IV as Key to Dante’s Comedy.” A Journal of Political Philosophy 40, no. 2 (2013): 199.
Norton, Charles. “The Divine Comedy: Hell (The Inferno).” An Electronic Classics Series Publication 1, no. 2 (2013): 7-13.
Pampinella-Cropper, Margherita. Family and the Body Politic in Dante’s Divine Comedy: Classical and Medieval Metamorphoses. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin—Madison, 2002.
Quinones, Ricardo. Foundation Sacrifice in Dante’s Commedia. Pennsylvania: Penn State Press, 2010.
1 Colin, Crouch, “The Divine Comedy of Contemporary Citizenship,” The Political Quarterly 72, no.1 (2001):150.
2 Colin, Crouch, (2001):150.
3 Colin, Crouch, (2001):150.
4 Paul, Bruckman, “La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy): Inferno (London: Xlibris Corporation, 2011), 71.
5 Paul, La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy): Inferno, 94.
6 Paul, La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy): Inferno, 101.
7 Paul, La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy): Inferno, 114.
8 Dante Alighieri and Stanley Lombardo, Inferno (New York: Hackett Publishing, 2009), 17.
9 Dante Alighieri and Stanley Lombardo, Inferno, 27.
10 Dante Alighieri and Stanley Lombardo, Inferno, 27.
11 Joan, Ferrante, The Political Vision of the “Divine Comedy” (New York: Princeton University Press, 2014), 6.
12 Joan, The Political Vision of the “Divine Comedy”, 6.
13 Joan, The Political Vision of the “Divine Comedy”, 4.
14 Joan, The Political Vision of the “Divine Comedy”, 5.
15 Catherine , Keen and David Martin, “The Divine Comedy,” Christian Book Summaries 4, no. 21 (2008): 5.
16 Catherine, Keen, and David Martin, (2008): 7.
17 Sarah, Landas, “Allusions in Dante’s Inferno,” A journal of undergraduate Student Research 5, no. 9 (2002): 91.
18 Sarah, Landas, (2002): 93.
19 Andreacchio, Marco, “Unmasking Limbo: Reading Inferno IV as Key to Dante’s Comedy” A Journal of Political Philosophy 40, no. 2 (2013): 199.
20 Andreacchio, Marco, (2013): 199.
21 Andreacchio, Marco, (2013): 199.
22 Charles, Norton, “The Divine Comedy: Hell (The Inferno),” An Electronic Classics Series Publication 1, no. 2 (2013): 8.
23 Charles, Norton, (2013): 11.
24 Henry, Longfellow, (2005): 150.
25 Charles, Norton, (2013): 11.
26 Margherita, Pampinella-Cropper, Family, and the Body Politic in Dante’s Divine Comedy: Classical and Medieval Metamorphoses (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin—Madison, 2002), 25.
27 Margherita, Pampinella-Cropper, Family, and the Body Politic in Dante’s Divine Comedy: Classical and Medieval Metamorphoses, 31.
28 Margherita, Pampinella-Cropper, Family, and the Body Politic in Dante’s Divine Comedy: Classical and Medieval Metamorphoses, 31.
29 Ricardo, Quinones, Foundation Sacrifice in Dante’s Commedia (Pennsylvania: Penn State Press, 2010), 51.
30 Ricardo, Quinones, Foundation Sacrifice in Dante’s Commedia, 53.
31 Dante, Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso (San Ontario: Bibliotech Press, 2014), 35
32 Dante, Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, 24.
33 Dante, Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, 52.
34 Dante, Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, 130.
35 Leticia, Fusini, “World Humanism(s), the Divine Comedy, Lao She’s (‘Literature of the Soul and Buddhism’), and Gao’s Soul Mountain,” Comparative Literature and Culture 15, no. 5 (2013):3.
36 Leticia, Fusini, (2013): 5.
37 Henry, Longfellow, (2005): 74.
38 Leticia, Fusini, (2013): 5.
39 Jason, Alexander, “Dante Understands of the Two Ends of Human Desire and the Relationship between Philosophy and Theology,” The Journal of Religion 91, no. 2 (2011): 158.
40 Henry, Longfellow, (2005): 74.
41 Jason, Alexander, (2011): 160.
42 Henry, Longfellow, (2005): 74.
43 Jason, Alexander, (2011): 163.
44 Jason, Alexander, (2011): 160.
45 Jason, Alexander, (2011): 160.
46 Henry, Longfellow, “The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri.” An Electronic Classics Series Publication 1, no. 1 (2005): 17.
47 Ricardo, Quinones, Foundation Sacrifice in Dante’s Commedia, 53.
48 Ricardo, Quinones, Foundation Sacrifice in Dante’s Commedia, 53.
49 Ricardo, Quinones, Foundation Sacrifice in Dante’s Commedia, 53.
50 Colin, Crouch, (2001):150.
51 Charles, Norton, (2013): 11.
52 Charles, Norton, (2013): 11.
53 Charles, Norton, (2013): 11.