A Pilgrimage of Thought: The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

A Pilgrimage of Thought: The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

The most widely read work of Florentine politician and writer Dante Alighieri, the Divine Comedy dictates a tale of the three realms of the afterlife as believed by the Italians of the Middle Ages. Broken into three parts, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso are individual cantos—defined as a version of an epic poem that is usually sung—that make up the components of the overall text. As a volume, the Divine Comedy is commonly considered a work of religious poetry, however Dante Alighieri is not shy about revealing his deep understanding of contemporary science, astronomy, and philosophy within the tome as well. It is in part because of his vast array of influences utilized, as well as his lyrical style, that the Divine Comedy was propelled onto the stage of literary masterpieces.

The Divine Comedy and Christian Concept of Afterlife

The Divine Comedy is considered by most scholars as an allegory of the different states of afterlife for a soul upon death. In Inferno, Dante discusses the Christian concept of Hell, the place where those who committed sins and crimes suffer for the rest of eternity under the vicious thumb of Satan.

Titans and other giants are imprisoned in Hell in this illustration by Gustave Doré of Dante's Divine Comedy. ( )

Purgatory reveals those who considered committing crimes but could never move beyond motive to action. The people who rest here are thus neither punished nor praised, but given an opportunity to learn and repent their thoughts by being given labors through which they can surpass their earthly judgments.

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Illustration for Dante's Purgatorio by Gustave Doré. ( )

Finally, Paradise is the realm where the good and pure and virtuous are sent, near to the enclosure of God and the Holy Trinity, representing the culmination of a good Christian's hard work and unwavering faith.

Dante’s Paradise as depicted by Gustave Dore. Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean. ( )

Some of the Virtues and Characters Present in the Divine Comedy

Each of these three afterlives is made up of nine circles, terraces, or spheres, respectively, and one final inner chamber, indicating the importance of the number ten in the Christian view. Within each circle are the committers of a certain deed or the most faithful of a certain virtue, examples of which range from the mythological beliefs of the Greeks—as shown by the vision of Helen of Troy in the lustful realm of Hell—all the way to Dante's lifetime, where he meets some people he once knew—such as his friend Ugolino (Nino) Viscounti who resides in Purgatory because he committed no sins, but grossly ignored his faith to ensure the well-being of his country.

The count Ugolino and his children in prison, visited by hunger (16th Century) Pierino da Vinci. ( )

Dante's Journeys: A Path to Redemption

If looking at the world from a side view, it appears that Dante chose to write his text moving from the ground up—beginning in the infernos of Hell, then transitioning into Purgatory and then finally gaining Heaven itself. However, the journey through Hell begins at the top and works its way down, physically moving through the center of the earth to reach the core of all sin and sinners.

Purgatory, in contrast, is designed in the author's mind as a mountain that must be overcome to reach the Earthly Paradise, also called the Garden of Eden , which lies at the mountain's zenith.

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Heaven is shown in the heavens themselves, the spheres corresponding to astronomical planets and stars, a proper ending for the journey through the earthly realm that one must take to even see it. Dante's journeys are therefore intended to represent a Christian on the path of redemption, understanding the sins of the world and the consequences that await when one reaches death.

Artist's interpretation of the geography of the Divine Comedy: the entrance to Hell is near Florence with circles descending to the Earth's center. Later as Dante passes down, he also moves up to Mount Purgatory's shores, which are in the southern hemisphere. Then he passes to the first sphere of Heaven, which is at the top (1922), Albert Ritter. ( )

The Divine Comedy: Dante's Grand Finale

Despite Dante Alighieri's tumultuous political life and the other literary works that took up much of his exiled life, it is the Divine Comedy for which he became known. It is a detailed example of the afterlife beliefs of those of a medieval Italian upbringing, as well as an allegorical record of the concerns about the states of the religious and political spheres of Dante's Italian contemporaries.

Completed only a year before his death in 1321, the Divine Comedy is the grand finale of thirteen long years of Dante's life - observing the world around him and contemplating what was waiting on the other side.


The Ultimate Self-Help Book: Dante's 'Divine Comedy'

Dante's goal was 'to remove those living in this life from the state of misery and lead them to the state of bliss.' Above, 'Portrait of Dante Alighieri' by Attilio Roncaldier

On the evening of Good Friday, a man on the run from a death sentence wakes up in a dark forest, lost, terrified and besieged by wild animals. He spends an infernal Easter week hiking through a dismal cave, climbing up a grueling mountain, and taking what you might call the long way home.

It all works out for him, though. The traveler returns from his ordeal a better man, determined to help others learn from his experience. He writes a book about his to-hell-and-back trek, and it's an instant best-seller, making him beloved and famous.

For 700 years, that gripping adventure story—"The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri—has been dazzling readers and even changing the lives of some of them. How do I know? Because Dante's poem about his fantastical Easter voyage pretty much saved my own life over the past year.

Everybody knows that "The Divine Comedy" is one of the greatest literary works of all time. What everybody does not know is that it is also the most astonishing self-help book ever written.

It sounds trite, almost to the point of blasphemy, to call "The Divine Comedy" a self-help book, but that's how Dante himself saw it. In a letter to his patron, Can Grande della Scala, the poet said that the goal of his trilogy—"Inferno," "Purgatory" and "Paradise"—is "to remove those living in this life from the state of misery and lead them to the state of bliss."

The Comedy does this by inviting the reader to reflect on his own failings, showing him how to fix things and regain a sense of direction, and ultimately how to live in love and harmony with God and others.

This glorious medieval cathedral in verse arose from the rubble of Dante's life. He had been an accomplished poet and an important civic leader in Florence at the height of that city's powers. But he wound up on the losing side of a fierce political struggle with the pope and, in 1302, fled rather than accept a death sentence. He lost everything and spent the rest of his life as a refugee.

The Comedy, which Dante wrote in exile, tells the story of his symbolic death, rebirth and ascension to a higher state of being. It is set on Easter weekend to emphasize its allegorical connection with Christ's story, but Dante also draws on classical sources, especially Virgil's "Aeneid," as well as the Exodus story from the Bible.

Dante's masterpiece is an archetypal story of journey and heroic quest. Its message speaks to readers, whether faithful or faithless, who are searching for moral knowledge and a sense of hope and direction. In its day, it's worth recalling, the poem was a pop-culture blockbuster. Dante wrote it not in the customary Latin but in Florentine dialect to make it widely accessible. He wasn't writing for scholars and connoisseurs he was writing for commoners. And it was a hit. According to the historian Barbara Tuchman, "In Dante's lifetime, his verse was chanted by blacksmiths and mule-drivers."

Who knew? Not me. I always thought "The Divine Comedy" was one of those lofty, doorstop-sized Great Books more admired than read. Its intimidating reputation is likely why few people ever walk with Dante through the fires of the Inferno, climb with him up the seven-story mountain of Purgatory and rocket with him through the stars to Paradise.

What a pity. They will never discover the surprisingly accessible beauty of Dante's verse in modern translation. Nor will they grasp how useful his poem can be to modern people who find themselves caught in a personal crisis from which there seems no escape. Dante's search for deliverance propels him on a purpose-driven pilgrimage from chaos to order, from despair to hope, from darkness to light and from the prison of self to the liberty of self-mastery.

Dante showed me how to do it too. Midway through my own life, my journey brought me back to my hometown, where, in the wake of my sister's death, I had hoped to start anew with my family. The tale of my sister Ruthie's grace-filled fight with cancer and the love of our hometown that saw her through to the end changed my heart—and helped to heal wounds from the teenage traumas that had driven me away.

But things didn't work out as I had expected or hoped. By last fall, I found myself struggling with depression, confusion and chronic fatigue—caused, according to my doctors, by deep and unrelenting stress. My rheumatologist told me that I had better find some way to inner peace or my health would be destroyed.

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My guides were my priest, my therapist and, surprisingly, Dante Alighieri. Killing time in a bookstore one day, I read the first canto of "Inferno," in which the frightened and disoriented Dante comes to himself in the dark wood, all paths out blocked by savage animals.

Yes, I thought, that's exactly what this feels like. I kept reading and didn't stop. Several months later, after much introspective prayer, counseling and completing all three books of "The Divine Comedy," I was free and on the road to recovery. And I was left awe-struck by the power of this 700-year-old poem to restore me.

This will startle readers who think of "The Divine Comedy" only as the "Inferno" and think of the "Inferno" only as a showcase of sadistic tortures. It is pretty gory, but none of its gruesomeness is gratuitous. Rather, the ingenious punishments that Dante invents for the damned reveal the intrinsic nature of their sins—and of sin itself, which, as the poet says, makes "reason slave to appetite."

On the spiral journey downward into the Inferno, Dante learns that all sin is a function of disordered desire—a distortion of love. The damned either loved evil things or loved good things—such as food and sex—in the wrong way. They dwell forever in the pit because they used their God-given free will—the quality that makes us most human—to choose sin over righteousness.

The pilgrim's dramatic encounters in the "Inferno"—with tormented shades such as the adulterous Francesca, the prideful Farinata and the silver-tongued deceiver Ulysses—offer no simplistic morals. They are, instead, a profound exploration of the lies we tell ourselves to justify our desires and to conceal our deeds and motives from ourselves.

This opens the pilgrim Dante's eyes to his own sins and the ways that yielding to them drew him from life's straight path. The first steps to freedom require honestly recognizing that one is enslaved—and one's own responsibility for that bondage.

The second stage of the journey begins on Easter morning, at the foot of Mount Purgatory. Dante and his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, stagger out of the Inferno and begin the climb to the summit. If "Inferno" is about recognizing and understanding one's sin, "Purgatory" is about repenting of it, purifying one's will to become fit for Paradise.

Like all the redeemed souls beginning the ascent, Dante girds himself with a reed symbolizing humility. This is a truth every 12-stepper knows: Alone, we are powerless over our addictions.

But we aren't entirely powerless. On the Terrace of Wrath, where penitents must purge themselves, amid choking black smoke, of their tendency toward anger, the pilgrim meets a shade called Marco, whom he asks to explain why the world is in such a bad state. Marco sighs heavily and points to the poor choices that people make. "You still possess a light to winnow good from evil, and you have free will," Marco says. "Therefore, if the world around you goes astray, in you is the cause and in you let it be sought."

With these lines, the poet tells us to stop blaming other people for our problems. As long as we draw breath, we have it within ourselves to change.

Change is difficult and painful. But the penitents of Purgatory endure their purifications with joy because they know that they are ultimately heaven-bound. "I speak of pain," says a repentant glutton, now emaciated, "but I should say solace." The holy suffering of these ascetics unites them with Christ's example and sacrifice, which gives them the strength to bear it.

Dante's guide Virgil, who represents the best of human reason unaided by faith, can take the pilgrim to the mountaintop, but he cannot cross into Paradise. That task falls to Beatrice, the woman whom Dante had adored in life and in whose beautiful countenance young Dante saw a glimmer of the divine.

When he meets Beatrice at the summit, Dante confesses that after her death, he learned that he should set his heart on the eternal, on a love that cannot perish. But he forgot this wisdom and made his goal the pursuit of what Beatrice calls "false images of the good." This confession and his abject sorrow open the door for Dante's total purification, making him strong enough to bear the weight of heaven's glory.

"Paradise," which tracks Dante's rise with Beatrice through the heights of heaven, is the most metaphysical and difficult of the three books of "The Divine Comedy." It offers a vision of the Promised Land after the agonies of the purgatorial desert.

Allegorically, "Paradise" shows how we can live when we dwell in love, at peace with God and our neighbors, our desires not denied but fulfilled in harmonious order. It describes in rapturous passages how to be filled with the light and love of God, how to embrace gratitude no matter our condition and how to say, with the nun Piccarda Donati in an early canto, "In His will is our peace."

The effect all this had on me was dramatic. Without my quite realizing what was happening, "The Divine Comedy" led me systematically to examine my own conscience and to reflect on how I too had pursued false images of the good.

A portrait of Dante from the late 16th century. He hoped his poem would lead readers 'to the state of bliss.'

I learned how I had been missing the mark in my vocation as a writer. My eagerness to chase after new ideas before I had mastered old ones was a form of intellectual gluttony. The workaholic tendencies I considered a sign of my strong professional ethic were, paradoxically, a cover for my laziness the more time I spent writing, the less time I had for the mundane tasks necessary for an orderly life.

Most important of all, reading Dante uncovered the sin most responsible for my immediate crisis. Family and home ought to have been for me icons of the good—that is, windows into the divine—but without meaning to, I had loved them too much, seeing them as absolute goods, thereby rendering them into idols. They had to be cast down, or at least put in their proper place, if I was going to be free.

And "The Divine Comedy" persuaded me that I was not helplessly caught by my failings and circumstances. I had reason, I had free will, I had the assistance of good people—and I had the help of God, if only I would humble myself to ask.

Why did I need Dante to gain this knowledge? After all, my confessor had a lot to say about bondage to false idols and about how humility and prayer can unleash the power of God to help us overcome it. And at our first meeting, my therapist told me that I couldn't control other people or events, but, by the exercise of my free will, I could control my response to them. None of the basic lessons of the Comedy was exactly new to me.

But when embodied in this brilliant poem, these truths inflamed my moral imagination as never before. For me, the Comedy became an icon through which the serene light of the divine pierced the turbulent darkness of my heart. As the Dante scholar Charles Williams wrote of the supreme poet's art: "A thousand preachers have said all that Dante says and left their hearers discontented why does Dante content? Because an image of profundity is there."

That image is what Christian theologians call a "theophany"—a manifestation of God. Standing in my little country church this past January on the Feast of the Theophany, the poet's impact on my life became clear. Nothing external had changed, but everything in my heart had. I was settled. For the first time since returning to my hometown, I felt that I had come home.

Can Dante do this for others? Truth to tell, it is impossible for me, as a believing (non-Catholic) Christian, to separate my receptiveness to the poem from the core theological vision both Dante and I share.

But the Comedy wouldn't have survived so long if it were just an elaborate exercise in morality and Scholastic theology. The Comedy pulses with life, and it bears witness in its luminous lines and vivid tableaux to the power of love, the deathlessness of hope and the promise of freedom for those who have the courage to take the first pilgrim step.

Over Lent, I led readers of my blog on a pilgrimage through "Purgatory," one canto a day. To my delight, a number of them wrote afterward to say how much Dante had changed their lives. One reader wrote to say that she quit a three-decade smoking habit while reading "Purgatory" over Lent, saying that the poem helped her to think of her addiction as something that she could be free of, with God's help.

"I've had the sensation of maddeningly stinging, prickling skin during the nicotine withdrawal phase when I've tried to quit before," she said, "but reading Dante helped me to imagine the sensation as a cleansing fire."

Michelle Togut, a Jewish reader in Greensboro, N.C., told me that she was surprised by how contemporary the medieval Italian poet seemed. "For a work about what supposedly happens after you die, Dante's poem is very much about life and how we choose to live it," she said. "It's about spurning our idols and taking a long, hard look at ourselves in order to break out of the destructive behaviors that keep us from both G-d and the good life."

The practical applications of Dante's wisdom cannot be separated from the pleasure of reading his verse, and this accounts for much of the life-changing power of the Comedy. For Dante, beauty provides signposts on the seeker's road to truth. The wandering Florentine's experiences with beauty, especially that of the angelic Beatrice, taught him that our loves lead us to heaven or to hell, depending on whether we are able to satisfy them within the divine order.

This is why "The Divine Comedy" is an icon, not an idol: Its beauty belongs to heaven. But it may also be taken into the hearts and minds of those woebegone wayfarers who read it as a guidebook and hold it high as a lantern, sent across the centuries from one lost soul to another, illuminating the way out of the dark wood that, sooner or later, ensnares us all.

Mr. Dreher is a senior editor of The American Conservative, where portions of this essay first appeared. His most recent book, "The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming" (Grand Central), was published in paperback this week.

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Which Circle of Hell? The Textual Journey Through Dante’s Inferno

To complement the current exhibition in UCC Library, Dante Alighieri Inferno: A Suite of Lithographs by Liam Ó Broin, Special Collections has organised a selection of material from the collections and on loan from the Department of Italian. Material in the exhibition cases is taken from the following collections: Older Printed Books, Ó Riordáin Collection, Cork University Press, and the X Collection.

Dante & the Department of Italian

The first exhibition case introduces us to links that the Department of Italian have had with Dante over the years.

Professor Mary Ryan was Professor of Romance Languages in UCC from 1919 – 1938. She was the first woman professor in Ireland and Great Britain. On display is her copy of La Divina commedia di Dante Alighieri with commentary by Scartazzini (Milano: Hoepli: 1896). This book was bought by Prof. Ryan in Florence in 1897. The book is open to show her signature.

Mary Ryan’s signature on her copy of La Divina commedia di Dante Alighieri

In his writings James Joyce used an earlier edition (1891) of the Scartazzini edition that Prof. Ryan owned. In addition there is a photograph of Professor Ryan.

Bust of Dante. Lent by Dr Daragh O’Connell

There are three different images of Dante in differing formats, a bust of Dante and a free standing plaque, a lauro dantesco. The bust has been kindly lent by Dr Daragh O’Connell. The plaque was given to Prof. O’Brien some years ago for lectures given in Ravenna on Dante and Irish literature. Prof. Catherine O’Brien previously worked in UCC for many years. Lastly an image of Dante and Beatrice meeting at the bridge in Florence. This image had belonged to Professor Ethna Byrne Costigan. Prof. Byrne Costigan was appointed professor of Romance languages at UCC following the retirement of Prof. Ryan in 1938 and remained in this post until 1969. Prof. Byrne Costigan has collections in both Special Collections and the Archives Service in UCC Library.

O’Connell, Daragh & Jennifer Petrie, eds. Nature and Art in Dante: Literary and Theological Essays

In addition there are two publications from the Department of Italian. The first is: Daragh O’Connell & Jennifer Petrie’s recent publication: Nature and Art in Dante: Literary and Theological Essays. O’Connell & Petrie’s edited collection explores Dante’s use of art Dante’s pronouncements on his own aesthetic practice the blending of visual art, poetry, drama and music poetry, and the figure of the Christian hero Dante’s art of the simile and its relevance to the wider implications of the metaphor of the poem as ship. In addition there are essays with a more theological approach: the interrelated concepts of nature, art and divine creation in the context of medieval thought divine art in the bas-reliefs of Purgatorio x, and the significance of the vernacular for Dante as the most embodied and expressive, and so most fully human, form of language.

The last item with links to the Department of Italian is Piero Cali’s book, Allegory and Vision in Dante and Langland. This was published by Cork University Press in 1971. Dr Cali had come to Cork as the first lecturer in the Department of Italian. Both he and Prof. Byrne Costigan founded the Dante Alighieri Society in Cork. Prof. Byrne Costigan served as president of the Society from 1956 to 1969.

In this case also is an image of Dante meeting Virgil.

Dante Meets Virgil. Alinari, Vittorio, cura a. La Divina commedia: novamente illustrata da artisti italiani.

This image is in La Divina commedia: novamente illustrata da artisti italiani, curated by Vittorio Alinari. The book is part of a three volumed set, one volume for each section of the Commedia. Volume I was published in 1902 and contains the Inferno. Volume II contains the Purgatorio and Volume III contains the Paradiso both were published in 1903. The illustrations are accompanied by the Italian text. This volume is bound in the style of Queen’s College Cork (QCC) with a QCC stamp on the title page, a QCC bookplate on the front endpapers and QCC logo gold tooled on the spine. This volume is half bound in red leather with gold tooling on spine and marbled boards.

Dante: The Text

The second exhibition case contains texts in Irish, English and Italian as well as original drawings.

Editions of Inferno in different languages

Pádraig de Brún’s dual language edition of Dante’s Inferno: Coiméide dhiaga Dante: Leabhar I. On one page is the Italian text and on the facing page the Irish translation. de Brún uses features which are not peculiar to Irish but are features of Dante’s style. These include inversion and extended similes. The poem is to be read as a unit there are no footnotes on each page, instead there are notes at the end of the text. Adjacent to the de Brún work is Carson’s modern day translation. In 2004 the Belfast poet and novelist Ciarán Carson translated Dante Aligheri’s Inferno. Carson inserts archaisms from 18th-century Irish ballads into the text. He has chosen to work within Dante’s terza rima which is a fiendish triple rhyme.

Special Collections is privileged to hold the first English translation of The Divina Commedia of Dante Alighieri: Consisting of the Inferno — Purgatorio — and Paradiso. This was written by Henry Boyd in 1802. Boyd (1748/9-1832) was a translator and Church of Ireland clergyman, born in Dromore, Co. Antrim. His translation was the first complete edition of the Divine Comedy to be published in English and was important for “assisting to re-establish an audience for Dante, whose reputation had suffered a decline in the previous century” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Boyd intended to make the work accessible to a contemporary audience and the editorial choices and translated verse style that he adopted to help achieve this accessibility have been criticised by later commentators. However without them his work would probably have failed to have had the impact that it did. To his translation Boyd added extensive essays and notes as well as a translation of Leonardi Bruni’s Life of Dante. He dedicated the work to Viscount Charleville whom he had for years served as chaplain.

The volumes are half bound in red morocco and black cloth. Volume 3 contains an index of the most remarkable characters in the poem. The language is noticeably different to Carson’s and features of the printing are evident in the catchwords at the foot of the page alerting the binder to which page is next.

Alongside Boyd’s translation is a mid-19th century Italian edition. This is Giannini’s Commento di Francesco da Buti sopra La divina comedia di Dante Allighieri. Giannini provides a commentary canto by canto. The volumes are half bound in leather with gold tooled (QCC) crest on spine and marbled boards. There is a (QCC) bookplate on the front endpapers and a (QCC) stamp on the title page.

Both Boyd’s translation and Giannini’s volume show the first lines to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno.

Canto XXXII: Lines 124 – Lines 129
and Canto XXXIV: Lines 25 – 31. Mandelbaum, Allen, trans. The divine comedy of Dante Alighieri.

The last volume in the exhibition shows illustrations for specific lines of Canto XXXII and Canto XXXIV which are given in the figure to the left. Barry Moser, the well-known printmaker produced 90 pen and wash drawings to accompany the work in Mandelbaum’s volume. Allen Mandelbaum was one of the premier translators of Italian and classical poetry. Mandelbaum also translated Virgil’s The Aenid, Homer’s Odyssey and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Acknowledgements

Bust of Dante. On loan from Dr. Daragh O’Connell.

Dante meeting Beatrice at the bridge in Florence. On loan from Prof. Catherine O’Brien, formerly of UCC.

Free standing plaque, a lauro dantesco. On loan from Prof. Catherine O’Brien, formerly of UCC.

Scartazinni, G.A., comment. La Divina commedia di Dante Alighieri. Milano: Hoepli, 1896. On loan from Prof. Catherine O’Brien, formerly of UCC.

Dante Alighieri, and Ciarán Carson. The Inferno of Dante Alighieri: A New Translation. London: Granta, 2002. On loan from Crónán Ó Doibhlin.

Dante Alighieri and Pádraig De Brún, trans. Coiméide dhiaga Dante: Leabhar I. Baile Átha Cliath [Dublin]: Mac An Ghoill, 1963.


The entire history of Western literature and theology is Dante’s fodder to sample and mash up like some kind of 14th-Century hip-hop artist.

Dante’s biases inform much about how we see Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. And he mixes Christian theology and pagan Greco-Roman myth as if both are simultaneously true – or rather, to use another term from contemporary sci-fi/fantasy writing, he “retcons” Greco-Roman myth so that its characters, including the gods, can co-exist with Christianity in a way that makes logical sense. Charon, the Greek mythological figure who ferries souls to the underworld, now ferries the damned to Hell. Satan himself is referred to as Dis, another name for Pluto, the god of the underworld.

Dante’s vision of Hell has inspired countless artists – from Botticelli to the videogame designers behind a 2010 adaptation of the Inferno for Playstation and Xbox (Credit: Alamy)

And real-world history is placed alongside divinity too: who is Satan eternally devouring? Judas, the betrayer of Christ, in one of his three mouths, yes. But Brutus and Cassius, the betrayers of Julius Caesar, are in his other two mouths. Dante is indeed suggesting that Julius Caesar may have been on the same level of importance as Jesus. The entire history of Western literature and theology is Dante’s fodder to sample and mash up like some kind of 14th-Century hip-hop artist.

Poet and painter Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti changed his name to Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the poet’s honour – and he painted Beatrice, Dante’s ideal woman (Credit: Alamy)

All these references to history, myth and scripture end up being rhetorical ammunition for Dante to comment on the politics of his day, the way some of us might invoke, say, instantly recognisable gifs from movies or TV shows to make sense of what’s happening in our world now. Suddenly, while in Heaven, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian appears and adds his two florins about the French king Charles of Valois, who was trying to undermine the Holy Roman Empire by lending military muscle to the papacy: “Let young Charles not think the Lord/Will change his eagle-bearing coat of arms/For sprays of lilies, nor that a toy sword/And putty shield will work like lucky charms”. That, via the 2013 translation of Clive James, was a personal score for Dante to settle as well, since the forces that had aligned with Charles had had him exiled from Florence – for almost the last 20 years of his life he was barred from his beloved city.

The Divine Comedy wasn't popular in the English-speaking world until poet William Blake, who made many illustrations for it such as this, advocated strongly for it (Credit: Alamy)

And my, there’s more score settling in The Divine Comedy than in every episode of every Real Housewives series combined. His wish for Pisa is the drowning of its “every soul”. In the same canto, he adds, also via James, “Ah, Genoese, you that know all the ropes/Of deep corruption yet know not the first/Thing of good custom, how are you not flung/Out of this world?” Of the mythical King Midas he says: “And now forever all men fight for air laughing at him.” There has never been a more artful master of the insult.

William Bouguereau’s Dante and Virgil from 1850 shows how vivid and image-rich Dante’s storytelling is (Credit: Alamy)

There’s also never been an imagination more attuned to inventive forms of punishment. Barrators, the term for politicians who are open to taking bribes, are stuck in hot pitch because they had sticky fingers when they were alive. Caiaphas, the high priest who helped condemn Christ, is himself crucified. Pisa’s Count Ugolino is allowed to forever gnaw on the neck of Archbishop Ruggieri, the man who condemned him and his sons to die of starvation.

The turn of the spheres

These are stunning images, but made all the more powerful by the language in which Dante chose to convey them: not Latin, the language of all serious literary works in Italy to that point, but Florentine Tuscan. In the early 14th Century, Italy, a patchwork of city states with various external imperial powers vying for influence, was also a patchwork of different languages. Writing in the Florentine dialect of the Tuscan language could have limited the appeal of The Divine Comedy. But the work proved so popular, so endlessly read, that the literate in Italy adapted themselves to, or strained to learn, Florentine Tuscan in order to appreciate it in Dante’s own tongue. (It helped that he also incorporated, where appropriate, elements of other local dialects as well as Latin expressions, to widen its appeal.)

Dante’s popularisation of the Florentine Tuscan language helped make Florence the epicentre of the Renaissance, and his likeness is on this Uffizi gallery fresco (Credit: Alamy)

Florentine Tuscan became the lingua franca of Italy as a result of The Divine Comedy, helping to establish Florence as the creative hub of the Renaissance. It also became the language in which Dante’s literary descendants Boccaccio and Petrarch would write – eventually just known as Italian. Through the force of his words, Dante helped create the very idea of the Italian language that is spoken today.

Depictions of Dante are found all over Italy, as with this statue in Verona, but Florence did not pardon him for the alleged crimes that exiled him until 2008 (Credit: Alamy)

Writing in the vernacular, and helping to create a new vernacular for much of Italy, allowed Dante’s ideas to take wide root – and helped set the stage for the intellectual revolutions to come in the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment. Two centuries later, Protestant leaders would advocate that reading the Bible in your own vernacular meant that you could give it your own individual understanding, undermining the idea that salvation is possible only through the Roman Church – something Dante himself had already done by outright inventing elements of the cosmology he presents in The Divine Comedy.

‘There is no greater sorrow than happiness recalled in times of misery’ – this line from Francesca, painted by Ary Scheffer, channels the grief Dante felt in exile (Credit: Alamy)

He had the presumption to fill in what the Bible leaves out. And, setting the stage for the Renaissance and its rebirth of Classical learning, Dante’s idea of Hell draws from Aristotle’s view that reason is the most important thing in life – which would be the later idea in Protestantism that an individual’s reason is their path to salvation. Each circle of Hell, and the Seven Deadly Sins assigned to them along with a few other categories, is classified based on either failures of reason (the lesser crimes, in which primal impulses overwhelm intellect, such as lust, gluttony, greed and sloth) or outright, conscious assaults on reason (such as fraud and malice, which are the direst crimes in Hell and for whom the damned are placed in the lowest, darkest circles).

Beyond Dante’s suggestion that faith in Christ through reason is the key to salvation, not the sacraments of the Church, it’s hard to think of a literary work so powerfully condemnatory of so many aspects of Roman Catholicism that exists before The Divine Comedy. He deplores the Church’s sale of indulgences and imagines many popes damned to Hell, with an entire line of 13th- and early 14th-Century pontiffs doomed to burn in an eternal flame for the crime of simony (the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges) until the pope following them dies and takes their place in the scorching. Dante also has a surprisingly global outlook, one quite fair to non-Christians. He heaps praise on the Saracen general Saladin, who he imagines merely occupying a place in Limbo, the place where the Just live who did not have faith in Christ in their lifetimes. There’s even a suggestion that there can be exceptions for those who did not know Christ but were Just, allowing them to ascend to Heaven.

The Divine Comedy is a fulcrum in Western history. It brings together literary and theological expression, pagan and Christian, that came before it while also containing the DNA of the modern world to come. It may not hold the meaning of life, but it is Western literature’s very own theory of everything.

BBC Culture’s Stories that shaped the world series looks at epic poems, plays and novels from around the globe that have influenced history and changed mindsets. A poll of writers and critics, 100 Stories that Shaped the World, was published in May.

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A brand-new dramatised retelling of Milton’s epic poem about the fall of man, with Milton as the narrator, adapted by one of the leading poets and thinkers of our generation: Michael Symmons Roberts. Paradise Lost was first published in 1667 and tells the story of Satan’s plot to bring about the fall of man by tempting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This brand-new adaptation begins in the midst of the action and follows the exploits of a hero (or antihero) taking in warfare and the supernatural and expressing the ideals and traditions of a people. Milton himself is the blind narrator, grieving the loss of his wife, whose eyesight worsens as the drama develops.


The Pilgrim’s Way

HOW WELL IT IS for the Christian soul to behold the city which is like a heaven on earth, full of the sacred bones and relics of the martyrs, and bedewed with the precious blood of these witnesses for truth to look upon the image of our Saviour, venerable to all the world . . . to roam from tomb to tomb rich with memories of the saints, to wander at will through the Basilicas of the Apostles with no other company than good thoughts.”

With these words the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch described the value of making a pilgrimage to Rome, which he did in 1350. Dante Alighieri had made the same journey in 1300. Pilgrimages captured the energy and imagination of millions of medieval Christians—a captivation reflected in the numerous pilgrim references in the Divine Comedy.

From crusades to Jubilees

At first, pilgrimages focused on Jerusalem. Such journeys served to unify God’s people as early as King David’s reign. After the establishment of the church, Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem continued until the latter 1200s.

Pilgrimages changed during the Crusades, when many travelers had to arm themselves for protection. Then in 1291 Acre, the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land, fell to the Muslims, making travel to Jerusalem perilous.

Loss of contact with Christianity’s motherland was traumatic. Pope Boniface VIII responded in 1300 by establishing the first Jubilee pilgrimage to Rome. “Jubilee” refers to the Old Testament tradition of holding a Jubilee every fiftieth year during which slaves were freed, debts were canceled, and land reverted to its original owners.

Boniface had prepared his capital well for visitors. He was one of a series of popes who recreated Rome as a flourishing city that attracted numerous artists to work on its churches and palaces. So when the fall of Acre made it difficult for Christians to visit the Via Dolorosa and walk in Christ’s footsteps, edifices like St. John Lateran and St. Peter’s Basilica stood as ready alternatives.

The Jubilee Pilgrimage greatly increased Rome’s prestige as a destination. As an anonymous fourteenth- century English poem, The Stacions of Rome, promised:

To make a Roman trek even more attractive, Boniface offered pilgrims previously unheard—of indulgences. The author of the Stacions reckoned that truly devout pilgrims could rack up 32,000 years of pardon for sin—including seven years for each step up or down the stairs at St. Peter’s.

Pilgrims flooded into Rome in such numbers that a new gate was opened in the city walls. Travelers in search of insights, blessings, and indulgences came from all across Europe, the British Isles, and parts of Asia. They arrived by ship, animal, and on foot. Some historical records indicate nearly two million visitors, which would have been almost 50 times the city’s normal population.

Innkeepers were not the only ones profiting from the traffic. One merchant told of two clerics “standing day and night by the altar of St. Paul’s literally raking in the pilgrims’ offerings.” Such stories led to accusations that the pope was using the pilgrims, selling indulgences to get rich and to finance wars. Technically, however, the offerings were voluntary and had no bearing on whether a pilgrim was granted an indulgence.

A pilgrim’s life

Medieval pilgrims set off for a variety of reasons. Some sought indulgences or the cure for an illness. For others the pilgrimage was an act of penance or the fulfillment of a vow. Still others journeyed to give thanks for a blessing or to reap benefits for someone else—a sort of pilgrimage by proxy.

Early pilgrims often dressed in a sackcloth habit, usually hooded. They carried food and money in a soft leather purse that they attached to their sash-style belts. Pilgrims also generally carried a metal-tipped staff. Some pilgrims received their staff as part of an elaborate ceremony of blessing, commissioning them for their journey.

Gradually, the pilgrim robes took on symbolic significance. Returning pilgrims who had visited famous destinations often carried symbols or badges on their clothing: natural souvenirs such as scallop shells or palm leaves, or keys from Rome. These trophies were highly valued, and unwary pilgrims could be robbed of their provisions and prizes.

Pilgrims were not the only ones who had to worry about larceny. Pilgrimage sites competed for saints’ remains, and many were robbed. Black-market relic trading became a problem, which is one reason the Vatican does not officially endorse the legitimacy of any relics. It would be impossible to verify them all.

Before and after Dante’s time, skeptics questioned the value of pilgrimages. In the seventh century, an English missionary in Germany wrote to Cuthbert, archbishop of Durham, charging that some men and women were traveling abroad “for the purpose of living licentiously, without the restraint they would find at home, or are tempted by the vices of the cities of France and Lombardy to fall from the path of virtue.”

One unnamed performer in Thomas More’s sixteenth-century Dialogue on the Adoration of Images claimed that many pilgrims to Canterbury “cometh for no devotion at all, but only for good company to babble thitherward, and drinke dranke there, and then dance and reel homewards.”

Geoffrey Chaucer’s fourteenth-century Canterbury Tales also suggests that a pilgrimage is an opportunity to have a good time. Dante, however, sided with the majority who applauded the spiritual benefits of making a holy pilgrimage.

Pilgrim passages

As the Comedy unfolds, Dante tells the story of a pilgrim’s journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven during the Holy Week of 1300. The opening lines of the poem describe the pilgrim as “midway in life,” probably referring to Dante’s thirty-fifth birthday in the spring of 1300. Age 35 would be half the biblical life span of “three score and ten years.”

In the eighteenth canto of Inferno, Dante compares a procession in the eighth circle of hell to the Roman traffic pattern during the Jubilee:

If, as a few historians maintain, Dante did not participate in the Jubilee pilgrimage of 1300, he must have been very familiar with it to have described such intricate details.

In the second canto of Purgatorio, Dante describes new arrivals from a waiting area at the Tiber River. The musician Casella, a dear friend of the poet, arrives a long time after his death. When Dante asks him the reason for the delay, Casella replies that he was often refused passage, but Boniface’s declaration of indulgences had enabled him to leave the waiting area and begin purifying his soul.

In the thirty-first canto of Paradiso, Dante describes a Croatian pilgrim in St. Peter’s who is much affected by viewing the veil of Christ. According to legend, Veronica (not a real name, but a combination of words meaning “true icon") offered Christ a veil as he was carrying the cross to Calvary. This veil is said to bear the imprint of Christ’s face. The veil’s ability to inspire awe in pilgrims reportedly influenced Boniface to grant the centennial indulgence.

For Dante, as for many believers before and after him, all of life is a pilgrimage. Some Christians, like those who participated in Jubilee 2000, still undertake physical journeys. Others apply the pilgrim concept to their everyday walk of faith. Either way, the idea holds eternal appeal. CH

By Jeanetta R. Chrystie

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #70 in 2001]


The Dante Code

The signs are mainly rock formations scattered in and around the gorge. In addition to the Eagle, Gianazza points out the Face of Christ, the Throne of Beatrice, the Fish, the Nipple, the Helmet, and the Lion. Some of the shapes are natural, he tells me. Others were chipped out of the rock by human hands long ago. Squinting, I can see the forked tail and humped body of the Fish. Beyond it, the Nipple rises proudly from a rounded, breastlike hill. The Savior's bearded profile juts out from a lichen-stained cliff that looms over the east bank of the river, facing the vacant Throne across the gray, swirling water. Downstream, the Lion's snarling jaws emerge from a promontory above the Helmet, which evokes the visorless Greek models that Achilles and his comrades wore on the fields of Troy.

According to Gianazza, an intense, wiry Italian in his late fifties who looks a bit like the actor Ben Kingsley, the rocks sit precisely where the medieval verses said they would. They point to the place where the secret is buried. He has measured the distances between the rocks again and again, using a surveyor's tape and a small GPS gadget designed to help golfers measure the length of their drives. The rocks all line up. Everything computes. This year, surely, the truth will be revealed.

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Gianazza is a former software engineer who lives in Monza, Italy, and works full-time on his quest. Each July he leads a team of Italian and Icelandic explorers back to this windy, treeless expanse of subarctic tundra, approximately 110 miles northeast of Reykjavík. The gorge lies between glaciers and snowcapped volcanoes off the Kjölur Route, an ancient dirt track that traverses the highlands from north to south. The explorers carry ground radar equipment, electric drills, shovels, and an unshakable belief that one of history's most important secrets lies beneath their feet, there for the finding, if only Gianazza can read the signs correctly and dig in just the right spot. They wear matching red expedition parkas emblazoned with an oval patch that displays the map of Iceland, the logo of the Italian real estate firm that helped sponsor this year's expedition, and a cryptic web address: danteiniceland.com. On closer inspection, I begin to make out a man's profile &mdash a long, hooked nose and thin lips pursed over a prominent chin &mdash in the outline of the jagged fjords of Iceland's eastern coast. From the laurel wreath around his forehead two large leaves protrude into the North Atlantic.

Renaissance art fans will note that this sketch evokes Botticelli's famous 1495 portrait of Dante Alighieri, the medieval author of The Divine Comedy. In this cornerstone of Italian literature, Dante describes his mythical journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise, guided first by the shade of the Roman poet Virgil and later by the ghost of Beatrice Portinari, the girl Dante loved in childhood but never married. Among other things, The Divine Comedy is an allegory of Christian suffering and redemption, a romantic love story, a veiled account of Dante's political exile from his beloved Florence, and a cultural manifesto that established the Italian language as a legitimate literary alternative to Latin. There are no obvious references to Iceland in The Divine Comedy, an epic poem of more than 14,000 lines whose original manuscript has never been found, or in any of Dante's other works. Nowhere in the various accounts of Dante's life is it mentioned that he ever visited Iceland. So why are we here?

We're here because Gianazza has spent the past decade trying to prove his theory that The Divine Comedy is not a mythical story about the afterlife but rather a factual, albeit coded, account of a secret journey to Iceland Dante made in the early 1300s. Why would Dante shlep all the way from exile in sunny Ravenna to a cold, foggy island populated by Scandinavian farmers and their livestock, and not tell anyone? Gianazza believes that Dante was following in the footsteps of medieval Christian warriors called the Knights Templar. He hypothesizes that these knights had visited Iceland a century earlier carrying a secret trove that they concealed in an underground chamber in the Jökulfall Gorge.

The Templars picked Iceland for their hiding place, Gianazza believes, because it was one of the most distant and obscure places known to medieval Europeans, who sometimes identified it with the frozen, semimythical Ultima Thule of classical geography. The Templars calculated the exact coordinates of the chamber and identified landmarks to orient future visitors. Years later Dante acquired the secret knowledge, made a pilgrimage to the site, and then coded the directions into his great epic so that future generations might follow in his footsteps. Like Dante before him, Gianazza is searching for what some might call the Holy Grail, a term that he avoids. Having cracked Dante's code, he expects to find early Christian texts and perhaps even the lost original manuscript of The Divine Comedy, all sealed in lead to guard them from the damp Icelandic weather. Gianazza launched his quest several years before Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code, but in some ways he's a more cautious, real-life version of symbologist Robert Langdon, the hero of Brown's best-selling thriller.

Until Gianazza came along, Iceland had never appeared in the various legends about the Templars and the Grail. But in many ways it's the perfect setting for his unlikely quest. Strangeness is a fact of everyday life on this small, seismically active island near the Arctic Circle. You can hear it in the unearthly pop music of Björk and Sigur Rós and see it in the weird landscape of lava fields and sheep pastures dotted with geysers and active volcanoes. The medieval Icelandic sagas recount the adventures of historical figures who seem fairly prosaic until you read about their troll ancestors and prophetic dreams. Many modern Icelanders descend from the old saga families. And even though they live in a bustling, economically vibrant Scandinavian welfare state, many of them believe that elves and other magical creatures live among them, according to recent surveys. The highway department has been known to route new roads around rocks that are thought to be elvish residences. In this context there's nothing particularly surprising about the idea that a band of medieval knights might have buried something important in the Jökulfall Gorge.

Gianazza worked for IBM in Italy during the early part of his career and later ran a successful computer leasing company in Milan. Monza, where he and his wife now live, is a town that's known mostly for its Formula One racetrack. Their two grown children live close by, in Milan. After selling his business in 1997, Gianazza found himself with time and money on his hands. Always interested in mathematical puzzles, he started his research when he read an art history book that speculated about possible secret codes in Botticelli's 1492 painting Allegory of Spring. After studying the painting, he decided that the raised hands of the dancing figures in the painting were arranged in a code that corresponded to the positions of the planets on a particular date: March 14, 1319. He also noticed that other Botticelli paintings contained references to Dante and The Divine Comedy, as did contemporary works by Leonardo (including the Mona Lisa) and later ones by Raphael. Intrigued, Gianazza plunged into a detailed study of The Divine Comedy and concluded that an astronomical reference to the spring equinox in the opening canto corresponded to the same date that he had deduced from Botticelli's dancers.

Gianazza is hardly the first person to engage in conspiratorial speculation about the Templars, although the Icelandic connection is certainly a creative variation on the theme. The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, commonly known as the Knights Templar, were a military order founded around 1119 to protect Christian pilgrims against Muslim depredations during the long, perilous journey from Europe to the Holy Land. Over the next two centuries the Templars developed into a standing army of fierce, well-armed knights who often formed the vanguard of the various crusader armies that fought to conquer Jerusalem. Because the Templars were a popular charity in medieval Europe, they accumulated substantial property and wealth. They also developed a financial network for pilgrims that worked liked ATMs: Assets deposited at Templar offices in Europe could be drawn upon as credit from the Templar network in the Middle East.

Seven hundred years ago the Templar order was brutally suppressed by King Philip IV of France, who, not coincidentally, owed the Templars a lot of money. Templar conspiracy theories have circulated ever since. According to the most popular one, the Templars had brought sacred relics back to Europe from their headquarters on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, including the Ark of the Covenant and perhaps even the Holy Grail. The existence of these relics somehow threatened the Catholic popes and their royal allies, who eventually branded the Templars heretics. After the order was disbanded and its leaders burned at the stake, the surviving Templars carried their secret with them into hiding. Because the secret was dangerous, it was never announced or published. Instead it was handed furtively down the generations, from knight to knight and finally to Dante, who was &mdash so Gianazza believes &mdash a secret Templar. After Dante, the knowledge passed to Renaissance painters including Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael, who painted it into their canvases.

And now it's Gianazza's turn to decode the message and find the hidden secret to which it refers.

On the first morning of the expedition, the Italians were late for breakfast. They had driven all night from Reykjavík, after an epic flight from Milan that was diverted to Glasgow and London, where they spent the night and were forced to pay a second excess baggage fee for all their gear. Gianazza smiled slightly when I joked that the Vatican might have had a hand in their mishaps, but he soon got down to business.

"I have demonstrated mathematically that the place is right," he said, gesturing fluidly at his seven volunteer colleagues, all wearing their red team parkas and gathered around a table in the dining room of a mountain hostel. (They were unpaid, but Gianazza covered their expenses.) The Italian explorers included Pio Romano Grasso, a devoted friend of Gianazza's who worked with him at IBM and now owns Key Value Real Estate, the Italian property company that co-sponsored the expedition Mario Ferguglia, a geologist from Turin and Domenico Frontera, a dashing, athletic young man who was the youngest member of the expedition by at least three decades and had come to do whatever heavy lifting might be required. "I like very much Dante Alighieri," Frontera replied when I asked him why he had joined the expedition. His parents, who run a small company that makes medicinal skin creams, are friends with Gianazza and his wife. Frontera read Gianazza's 2006 book I Custodi del Messaggio ("Guardians of the Message") a few years ago, became intrigued, and asked to join the team. The Icelandic members included Thorarinn Thorarinsson, a retired architect and town planner who studies the medieval history of the island as a hobby, and three other men who helped out with driving and logistics. They all listened intently as Gianazza spoke.

"Dante refers to the Fish, and we have found the Fish. He refers to the Eagle, and we have found the Eagle. He refers to the Door of Paradise. We're looking for the Door of Paradise!" Everyone nodded. "Now we must measure the distance from the eye of the Eagle to the Throne," Gianazza continued. "It should be 100 to 100.5 Roman cubits. If the distance is right, we must dig in the little place."

With that, we all piled into hulking Icelandic jeeps, modified SUVs with raised suspensions and oversize tires that can negotiate the challenging highland terrain. We parked at the Stone of the Fish, which definitely looked fishy and apparently corresponded to a backward acrostic for the Italian word pesce (fish), formed by the initial letters of five lines in the climactic Paradiso section of the Comedy. Carrying the radar scanner and other gear, we hiked down the western wall of the gorge via a steep trail frequented by sheep.

No evidence for the various Templar legends has ever surfaced, which is why scholars see them as such: popular fables that still flourish in dark corners of the Internet and in blockbuster fictions like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Foucault's Pendulum, and The Da Vinci Code. Gianazza subscribes to a more intellectual but no less conspiratorial version of the old story about the Templars and the Grail. In his book he argues that the Grail was not a physical chalice but rather "a primitive nucleus of the message of Christ, an original doctrinal 'body' handed down secretly throughout the centuries." More recently he has speculated that this "primitive nucleus" might have been a collection of esoteric teachings from the earliest years of Christianity, before the Roman emperor Constantine promulgated the first orthodox version of the faith.

That's when the trouble started, in Gianazza's view. In the centuries after Constantine's death, the Catholic Church acquired the sole authority to distinguish truth from heresy. The Templars were stamped out because they had somehow learned the truth about early Christianity, a truth that threatened the primacy of the medieval popes. Although Gianazza was raised a Catholic, he practices no religion and expresses little interest in the supernatural. He's also reluctant to speculate about the exact nature of the buried secret. "Dante wants to give to future generations the truth of our history," he told me. "If he'd said it straight out he would have been executed, and The Divine Comedy would have been destroyed. But I don't talk about that. I say, 'I want to go to Iceland, find the ancient documents, and read.' "

Applying an arcane numerological technique that involves translating line numbers and textual references into map coordinates, Gianazza became convinced that the Amphitheater of the Blessed, where Dante finds Beatrice sitting on a throne in Paradise at the end of the Comedy, must refer to a physical location. Based on the latitude and longitude coordinates that he had inferred from Dante's text, he decided that the place must be Iceland. He guessed that Dante must have visited Iceland in 1319, two years before the poet's death, at the age of about 56. When Gianazza first visited Iceland a decade ago, he navigated to Dante's hidden map coordinates and found a natural amphitheater in the Jökulfall Gorge, with a throne-shaped rock at its center.

On that trip he also met Thorarinsson and asked him whether there was any evidence that Templars had visited Iceland in the year 1217, as his theory predicted. Bingo: According to Thorarinsson, one of the medieval Icelandic chronicles contains a cryptic reference to 80 uniformed knights from the east who turned up at the 1217 Althing, or parliament, at Thingvellir, where the island chiefs and their followers gathered every year to pass laws and settle disputes. Thorarinsson promptly joined the expedition. Since then Gianazza has led eight trips to the gorge, hoping to find the hidden Templar chamber. "I am known as the Italian madman who comes to Iceland and makes holes," he said wryly.

Now, in a gusty wind, the explorers broke out their surveying tape and measured the distance between the Eagle's eye and the sloping seat of the throne. Consternation: The tape showed 44.75 meters, or 20 centimeters more than the expected measurement of 100.5 Roman cubits, converted to the metric system. However, the wind was gusting, which made it difficult to get an accurate reading. That evening, when the wind had died down, Frontera and Romano returned to the gorge and remeasured the distance. This time it was correct, and we enjoyed a festive dinner of Icelandic fish baked in mashed potatoes, with rye bread and beer.

In order to dig in the gorge, Gianazza needed cooperation from the local government, which strictly regulates all excavation work on the island. During my three days in the gorge, Gianazza's team was supervised by a local archaeologist named Bjarni Einarsson, a no-nonsense medieval specialist in his mid-fifties who spends most of his time excavating Viking farm sites around the island. Several passes with the ground scanner revealed an underground rock shelf about halfway down the steep slope that leads from the Eagle's Eye to the river, so Gianazza asked Einarsson to dig a test trench in that spot. With a cigar clamped in his teeth, Einarsson started by cutting out squares of turf with a shovel and carefully passing them to Frontera, who stacked the turves in a pile nearby. Einarsson then dug a trench about six feet long, two feet wide, and three feet deep.

He stopped frequently to probe the soil with a small trowel, looking for flecks of volcanic ash, or tephra, that could indicate the last time the soil had been disturbed. Einarsson quickly concluded that the soil had been intact for at least a thousand years, ruling it out as a possible site for the Templar chamber. We all then pitched in to refill the trench with stones. As I trudged back and forth, gathering armloads of jagged volcanic rocks and dumping them into the trench, I thought of John Maynard Keynes's argument that governments should fight recessions by spending money, even if it means paying men to dig holes and fill them back up again. When the trench was finally full, Einarsson gently replaced the turves, in their original positions. In a few months they would grow back together, and there would be little sign that anyone had ever dug there.

At dinner Einarsson and a colleague from the Icelandic antiquities office listened politely while Gianazza delivered an impassioned pitch for state funding to support his research. Gianazza has underwritten most of the expedition costs over the past decade, with some help from his friends. One year he received a large grant from a geological research institute in Italy that was interested in his efforts to map and date the volcanic strata beneath the gorge. The grant allowed him to rent a helicopter and conduct an aerial survey of the gorge. But that money is long gone, and every expedition costs Gianazza around $15,000. He hasn't worked since he sold his computer business more than a decade ago. Although he owns some rental property in Monza, he says his money is running out.

"I can't even afford to buy a car for my son," he said bitterly. "I need institutional support." He argued that the Icelandic government should underwrite the research because it might unearth valuable artifacts that would belong to Iceland. "Bill Gates bought one of Leonardo's notebooks" &mdash the Codex Leicester &mdash "for $30 million," he said. "Nobody knows where the original manuscript of The Divine Comedy is. The value of these ancient documents is enormous, both culturally and monetarily."

Gianazza and his team stayed in the highlands for two more days and dug one additional trench, which also proved fruitless. This seemed appropriate to me, given the odd circumstances of Dante Alighieri's afterlife. In the centuries after his death, Dante's literary fame spread, and eventually the Florentines regretted their decision to exile him. In the early 1800s they built a grand tomb for his remains in the Basilica de Santa Croce, surmounted by a statue of the poet sitting moodily on his sarcophagus, chin in hand. That tomb remains empty to this day, because the authorities in Ravenna have never agreed to return Dante's remains to Florence. I thought about his empty tomb as I watched Gianazza's team dig empty holes in the side of the Jökulfall Gorge, usually with a light rain falling.

Gianazza doesn't know if he'll come back to Iceland next year. He seems weary of questing on a tight budget, and he may not be the only one who feels that way. When I asked how Signora Gianazza viewed her husband's decadelong search for the Templar chamber, he replied with an eloquent Italian shrug. He would prefer, he says, to stay in Monza and pursue his Dante research while the Icelandic government pays professional archaeologists like Einarsson to do the actual digging.

That might be a long shot. At the end of the week I followed Einarsson's truck on the descent from the highlands toward Reykjavík. Leaving the gorge felt like waking from a dream. We stopped at a roadside café near Thingvellir, the parliament site where the 80 Templar knights supposedly appeared in 1217. Over cappuccino and carrot cake on a sunny outdoor terrace, I asked Einarsson what he thought of Gianazza's theories. He puffed on his cigar and then shrugged. "It's a very beautiful story," he said.


Digital Dante

Paradiso 11 begins with an apostrophe to the senseless cares of mortals from which Dante has now been released. In the apostrophe Dante lists the senseless cares that grip men’s souls:

This passage lists all the forms of professional attainment to which a man could then aspire (a list that has changed remarkably little what has changed is the membership of the caste of aspirants): the law, medicine, priesthood, rulership, business and politics. The list is framed negatively from the outset, by being placed under the rubric “insensata cura de’ mortali” (senseless cares of mortals). Moreover, a negative spin enters the catalogue of professions when we reach the word “rubare” (to plunder) in verse 7 and continues in the next two verses, which describe delights of the flesh and indolence.

Nonetheless, despite the negative framing, the opening of Paradiso 11 does in fact provide a run-through of the various professions available to the educated male elite of Dante’s day. In this way the poet offers a fascinating contrast to Paradiso 8, where professional attainment is viewed not negatively — as a mortal care from which to be released — but positively, as the glue of the life of the polis. In Paradiso 8 the context is Aristotelian, and Carlo Martello explicitly refers to Aristotle’s Politics. “Would it be worse for man on earth if he were not a citizen?” in Paradiso 8.115-16 is a question that hearkens back to Aristotle, Politics I.1.2: “homo natura civile animal est” (“Man is by nature a social animal”). In Paradiso 8, the question that follows is: can man be a citizen if there are not different ways of living in society, requiring different talents and duties? The answer is that we need difference in the social sphere, and therefore men are born with different dispositions and talents:

Paradiso 8 offers a celebration of different types of professional attainment, while Paradiso 11 views the same professional aspirations as burdensome concerns and celebrates the pilgrim’s release from all such cares. There is, however, one aspiration that Paradiso 11 will view kindly, and that is the aspiration to live a life of militant poverty in the mode of St. Francis of Assisi. It is to that aspiration and to that lifestyle that this canto now transitions, in the form of a hagiographical tribute to St. Francis and to his “marriage” with Lady Poverty. The metaphor of Francis as the groom of Poverty, his bride, governs the story of his life, as Dante tells it in Paradiso 11.

The account of the life of St. Francis is part of the overarching narrative chiasmus that governs the heaven of the sun, as in the following chart:

Paradiso 11 offers a great tribute to St. Francis, lover of poverty and founder of the Franciscan order, while Paradiso 12 offers a great tribute to St. Dominic, scholar-warrior and founder of the Dominican order. Neither Francis nor Dominic is present in the heaven of the sun. Rather, two renowned and exemplary members of the orders that they founded, St. Thomas the Dominican and St. Bonaventure the Franciscan, are present and each speaks to the pilgrim. In the chiastic fashion that is typical of the circularized discourse of this heaven, St. Thomas the Dominican will celebrate the life of St. Francis and condemn the degeneracy of the Dominicans (in Paradiso 11), and St. Bonaventure the Franciscan will celebrate the life of St. Dominic and condemn the fracture of the Franciscans (in Paradiso 12).

The “plot” moves forward, as is typical in Paradiso, by way of the articulation of the pilgrim’s uncertainties or “doubts” (“dubbio” in Italian). The hyper-literariness of this heaven, as discussed in Chapter 9 of The Undivine Comedy, is evident from St. Thomas’ presentation of the pilgrim’s queries in the form of verbatim citations of his (Thomas’s) own previous discourse as recorded in Paradiso 10.

Dante’s dubbi take the form of confusion over two obscure statements from St. Thomas’s previous discourse. The first question regards the meaning of the cryptic phrase “U’ ben s’impingua” (where they fatten well) from Paradiso 10.96, here repeated verbatim in Paradiso 11.25. The second question regards the meaning of “Non surse il secondo” (There never rose a second) from Paradiso 10.114:

The second dubbio as expressed above, “Non nacque il secondo” (A second was never born [Par. 11.26]), is a slight variation on Paradiso 10.114, where we found “surse” rather than “nacque”: “a veder tanto non surse il secondo” (a second never rose with so much vision). The second dubbio will not be addressed until Paradiso 13, so we will put it aside and address “U’ ben s’impingua” (where they fatten well).

The replies of the Paradiso frequently range quite far into pre-history before focusing on the target question. In this case the answer to the first dubbio takes the form of a history of the two great orders founded in the thirteenth century, the Franciscans and the Dominicans. We should bear in mind that, when Dante is writing, these two orders are still new among the great religious orders: the Franciscan order was founded in 1209, in which year St. Francis obtained from Pope Innocent III an unwritten approbation of his rule the Order of Preachers (also known as the Dominican order) was approved in 1216.

The two great mendicant orders, founded recently and contemporaneously, were important rivals in the fabric of urban life in Dante’s time. We think of Florence: on one side of the Duomo is Santa Maria Novella, the Dominican church, and on the other side is Santa Croce, the Franciscan church. The heaven of the sun offers a testimonial to the importance of these orders in cultural terms, an importance that causes Dante to respond to their histories at great length. St. Thomas explains that God ordained two saints to support His church. Embarking on the theme of the equality of these two saints, St. Thomas says that he will speak of Francis, with the understanding however that to praise one of the two great saints is tantamount to praising both:

Chapter 9 of The Undivine Comedy analyzes the metanarrative themes of this heaven, which are devoted to problematizing narrative and language: the canti of this heaven explore the impossibility of the trope “to speak of one is to speak of both”. Due to the inescapable temporality of narrative it is not possible to speak of the two saints simultaneously or in the same language they must be praised sequentially and in different language. Dante allocates rhetorical tropes in the life of Francis and the life of Dominic according to a complex compensatory system of “checks and balances”:

If the geographical periphrasis introducing Francis’s birthplace points to the east, “Orïente,” Dominic’s periphrasis points west if there is etymological wordplay regarding Assisi in canto 11, canto 12 refers to the etymologies of the names of Dominic, his father, and his mother if Francis’s birthplace is a rising sun, an “orto” (11.55), Dominic is the cultivator of Christ’s garden, Christ’s “orto” (12.72, 104). This same principle of balance informs the metaphors that govern the vite : if Francis is portrayed chiefly as a lover and a husband, and if we think of his life in terms of the mystical marriage to Poverty, nonetheless Dominic’s baptism is characterized as an espousal of faith and he is “l’amoroso drudo / de la fede cristiana” (“the amorous lover of the Christian faith” [12.55-56]) if Francis’s life is modeled on Christ’s, nonetheless the poem’s first triple rhyme on “Cristo” belongs to the life of Dominic (12.71, 73, 75). In writing the life of Dominic, Dante seems to have been intent on picking up the rhetorical and metaphorical components of the life of Francis: if Francis is an “archimandrita” (11.99), a prince of shepherds in an ecclesiastical Greek locution, Dominic is not only “nostro patrïarca” (11.121), a term that displays the same linguistic provenance, but also a “pastor” (11.131), whose sheep are wandering from the fold. Although we think of Dominic as the more military, and of Francis as the more loving, in fact Francis is a campione as well as Dominic, and Dominic is a lover as well as Francis. Even the agricultural images of Dominic as the keeper of Christ’s vineyard and as a torrent sent to root out heretical weeds are anticipated by Francis’s return “al frutto de l’italica erba” (to the harvest of the Italian fields [11.105]) and reprised in the image of the Franciscans as tares that will be excluded from the harvest bin. (The Undivine Comedy, p. 199)

Below is a chart that breaks down the eulogies to Francis and to Dominic (this chart is p. 217 of The Undivine Comedy), showing how carefully Dante orchestrates the rhetorical balancing of the two saints. There are also two outlines of the heaven of the sun, showing the complex interplay of these elements: the presentations of the two circles of souls, the pilgrim’s queries and the replies, the hagiographies followed by the critiques.

The life of St. Francis parses the major milestones of the saint’s life, stressing always his passionate love affair with Lady Poverty. The hagiography of Francis is followed by a coda on the decadence of the Dominican order, which will finally address directly the pilgrim’s dubbio (“U’ ben s’impingua” in Par. 10.96 and Par. 11.25). The answer to Dante’s uncertainty: Dominicans used to “fatten” when they were good sheep, before they began to stray.


Digital Dante

Now that we have been “congiunti con la prima stella” (Par. 2.30) and are in the heaven of the moon, we are ready to experience our first encounter with a blessed soul. In this canto Dante will meet Piccarda Donati. She is the sister of Forese Donati, the old friend from Florence with whom Dante had a nostalgic interaction on Purgatory’s terrace of gluttony.

Forese died in 1296. For Piccarda we have less precise information. She was born in the middle of the thirteenth century and died at the end of the thirteenth century. Dante’s intimacy with Forese is such that, when he meets Forese on the terrace of gluttony in Purgatory, he asks his friend about the whereabouts of his sister:

Piccarda is “already in triumph in high Olympus” (Purg. 24.15) because, like her brother Forese, her death is very recent. Her position as already a blessed soul in Paradise betokens a very swift ascent up the mountain of Purgatory.

Despite her swift ascent through Purgatory, Piccarda’s location in Paradise seems (literally) inferior. There appear to be lower and higher heavens in Paradise, heavens that are therefore farther from and closer to God, and we meet Piccarda in the lowest heaven (also the slowest heaven, because the heavens move more speedily as they get closer to God and to the Empyrean). It seems to be incontrovertibly the case that if one is in “la spera più tarda” (the slowest sphere [Par. 3.51]), as Piccarda describes her home, one is in the least valuable celestial real estate.

Beatrice explains to the pilgrim that these souls are “relegated” here — a strong choice of verb that does nothing to minimize our developing sense of a lower order of bliss — because of unfulfilled vows:

The verb relegare is defined in the Hoepli Dizionario thus: “Obbligare qualcuno ad allontanarsi dal luogo dove abitualmente vive per andare in un altro luogo lontano e sgradito esiliare, confinare” (oblige someone to move far away from their habitual place to a place that is far off and unappealing to exile).

We will learn in Paradiso 9 that the first three heavens are shadowed by the earth, and the result is that the souls of these heavens are characterized negatively: those who did not fulfill their vows (moon), those who lived with too much earthly ambition (Mercury), and those with too great an inclination toward eros (Venus).

Piccarda’s language stresses her lowliness, prompting Dante-pilgrim to ask a naive but all-important question. It is an important question because it refocuses the paradox of the One and the Many that governs the Paradiso, as articulated in its opening terzina: the glory of the mover of all things penetrates a “Uni-verse” that is by definition One and yet that glory penetrates differentially, “in una parte più e meno altrove” (in one part more and in another less [Par. 1.3]).

So now Dante-pilgrim asks Piccarda whether she experiences unhappiness at being so far from God, in the lowest of the heavens. Does she want a higher place where she can see more? And where she could be more “friends” with God? The childlike simplicity of the pilgrim’s language only adds to the potency of the question, a question that brings to the surface all our unspoken concern about unfairness continuing on into the realm of justice itself.

Ambivalence about one’s position in a hierarchy is a feature of human nature, and it is consequently a feature of discussions of Paradise. The poet of the Middle English Pearl shows his concern with rank in heaven in his recurrent use of the adverbs “more” and “less,” reminiscent of Dante’s “più” and “meno”: “Then the less, the more remuneration, / And ever alike, the less, the more” (10.5) “‘Of more and less,’ she answered straight, / ‘In the Kingdom of God, no risk obtains’” (11.1 trans. Marie Borroff, Pearl [New York: Norton, 1977]).

Dante explicitly raises the issue of envy among the saints in Paradise in the his philosophical treatise Convivio, explaining that there is no envy because each soul reaches the limit of his personal beatitude: “E questa è la ragione per che li Santi non hanno tra loro invidia, però che ciascuno aggiugne lo fine del suo desiderio, lo quale desiderio è colla bontà della natura misurato” (This is the reason why the saints do not envy one another, because each attains to the end of his desire, which desire is proportionate to the nature of his goodness [Conv. 3.15.10]). Modern imaginings of heaven, according to Carol Zaleski, have removed the problem: “For many people in our own day, however, the plurality of heavens seems at last to have lost its rationale the very notion of ranking souls offends democratic instincts” (Otherworld Journeys, 60 see Coordinated Reading).

If nowadays the “very notion of ranking souls offends democratic instincts”, it is worth noting that Dante stages his question to Piccarda precisely as a means of dramatizing the possibility of taking offense at souls being ranked from lowest to highest. The pilgrim’s question gives Piccarda the opportunity to explain that heaven is a place where one’s desire is always satisfied, where desire cannot possibly exceed the measure of what one has, and where it is always aligned with the will of the transcendent power. In other words, the souls of Paradise are completely happy with the grace that is apportioned to them:

Dante-poet scripts this dialogue as a model of ambivalence, in the etymological sense of allowing two different positions to materialize and to receive equal value. He is trying to dramatize the two prongs of his paradox as delineated in Paradiso 1.1-3: the irreducible difference of the souls — the fact that they are “vere sustanze” (true substances) as Piccarda says in Paradiso 3.29 — can only be expressed via hierarchy, and yet the concept of hierarchy is in apparent contradiction with the concepts of unity and similitude.

This contradiction is forcefully expressed in the narrator’s summation of what he learned from Piccarda, where the crude Latinism “etsi” — “although” — pivots the syntax and the thought from unity to difference:

In The Undivine Comedy I comment on the above terzina thus:

Everywhere in heaven is paradise, i.e., all heavenly locations are equally good nonetheless, at the same time, grace is not equally distributed. This is a notion we can accept only if we cease to think in terms of space otherwise, we run into the problem of all celestial real estate being equally valued despite not receiving the same goods and services. Moreover, if grace is not distributed d’un modo (a phrase that doubles in the Paradiso for igualmente), then it must perforce be distributed più e meno. And so we return to the paradox of the Paradiso’s first tercet, which Dante does not so much attempt to resolve as hold up for scrutiny, perusing it first from one perspective and then from another. Given that the problem of the one and the many is not one that Dante can, in fact, “resolve,” we nonetheless may note that our poet seems more to revel in it than to want to cover it over. (p 183)

The latter part of Paradiso 3 contains Piccarda’s poignant story of having been violently kidnapped from the cloister by the men of her brother Corso Donati. Her story is thus a story not of simple violence, but of Florentine political violence. Corso was the leader of the political faction of the Neri (the faction that exiled Dante) he wanted to give his sister in dynastic marriage in furtherance of his quest for alliance and political power. Piccarda also introduces the Empress Costanza, mother of Frederick II, who like her had joined the order of Santa Chiara but was forced to leave for an even higher dynastic calling.

There is much in this story that echoes the story of Francesca, especially in that both women experienced the typical destiny of upper-class women: they became pawns in dynastic marriages. Francesca committed adultery with her husband’s brother, and her marriage ended in uxoricide — as did the marriage of Pia dei Tolomei in Purgatorio 5. We note the common theme here, and sense Dante’s interest in denouncing the injustice of dynastic marriage and the many ways in which the practice victimizes women. On this topic, see my essay “Dante Alighieri” in Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia, cited in Coordinated Reading.

Piccarda refers to the “sweet cloister” from which she was abducted by violent men: “Uomini poi, a mal più ch’a bene usi, / fuor mi rapiron de la dolce chiostra” (Then men more used to malice than to good took me — violently — from my sweet cloister [Par. 3.106-7]). Her language is not a cultural anomaly historians teach us that the cloister was for many upper-class women a desirable alternative to marriage.

Piccarda describes being forced — compelled against her will — to leave the cloister. The compulsion that she experienced will be a major theme of the next canto.

Coordinated Reading

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 3: Celestial Real Estate.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2014. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-3/
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1 Quel sol che pria d’amor mi scaldò ’l petto,
2 di bella verità m’avea scoverto,
3 provando e riprovando, il dolce aspetto

4 e io, per confessar corretto e certo
5 me stesso, tanto quanto si convenne
6 leva’ il capo a proferer più erto

7 ma visïone apparve che ritenne
8 a sé me tanto stretto, per vedersi,
9 che di mia confession non mi sovvenne.

10 Quali per vetri trasparenti e tersi,
11 o ver per acque nitide e tranquille,
12 non sì profonde che i fondi sien persi,

13 tornan d’i nostri visi le postille
14 debili sì, che perla in bianca fronte
15 non vien men forte a le nostre pupille

16 tali vid’ io più facce a parlar pronte
17 per ch’io dentro a l’error contrario corsi
18 a quel ch’accese amor tra l’omo e ’l fonte.

19 Sùbito sì com’ io di lor m’accorsi,
20 quelle stimando specchiati sembianti,
21 per veder di cui fosser, li occhi torsi

22 e nulla vidi, e ritorsili avanti
23 dritti nel lume de la dolce guida,
24 che, sorridendo, ardea ne li occhi santi.

25 «Non ti maravigliar perch’ io sorrida»,
26 mi disse, «appresso il tuo püeril coto,
27 poi sopra ’l vero ancor lo piè non fida,

28 ma te rivolve, come suole, a vòto:
29 vere sustanze son ciò che tu vedi,
30 qui rilegate per manco di voto.

31 Però parla con esse e odi e credi
32 ché la verace luce che le appaga
33 da sé non lascia lor torcer li piedi».

34 E io a l’ombra che parea più vaga
35 di ragionar, drizza’mi, e cominciai,
36 quasi com’ uom cui troppa voglia smaga:

37 «O ben creato spirito, che a’ rai
38 di vita etterna la dolcezza senti
39 che, non gustata, non s’intende mai,

40 grazïoso mi fia se mi contenti
41 del nome tuo e de la vostra sorte».
42 Ond’ ella, pronta e con occhi ridenti:

43 «La nostra carità non serra porte
44 a giusta voglia, se non come quella
45 che vuol simile a sé tutta sua corte.

46 I’ fui nel mondo vergine sorella
47 e se la mente tua ben sé riguarda,
48 non mi ti celerà l’esser più bella,

49 ma riconoscerai ch’i’ son Piccarda,
50 che, posta qui con questi altri beati,
51 beata sono in la spera più tarda.

52 Li nostri affetti, che solo infiammati
53 son nel piacer de lo Spirito Santo,
54 letizian del suo ordine formati.

55 E questa sorte che par giù cotanto,
56 però n’è data, perché fuor negletti
57 li nostri voti, e vòti in alcun canto».

58 Ond’ io a lei: «Ne’ mirabili aspetti
59 vostri risplende non so che divino
60 che vi trasmuta da’ primi concetti:

61 però non fui a rimembrar festino
62 ma or m’aiuta ciò che tu mi dici,
63 sì che raffigurar m’è più latino.

64 Ma dimmi: voi che siete qui felici,
65 disiderate voi più alto loco
66 per più vedere e per più farvi amici?».

67 Con quelle altr’ ombre pria sorrise un poco
68 da indi mi rispuose tanto lieta,
69 ch’arder parea d’amor nel primo foco:

70 «Frate, la nostra volontà quïeta
71 virtù di carità, che fa volerne
72 sol quel ch’avemo, e d’altro non ci asseta.

73 Se disïassimo esser più superne,
74 foran discordi li nostri disiri
75 dal voler di colui che qui ne cerne

76 che vedrai non capere in questi giri,
77 s’essere in carità è qui necesse,
78 e se la sua natura ben rimiri.

79 Anzi è formale ad esto beato esse
80 tenersi dentro a la divina voglia,
81 per ch’una fansi nostre voglie stesse

82 sì che, come noi sem di soglia in soglia
83 per questo regno, a tutto il regno piace
84 com’ a lo re che ’n suo voler ne ’nvoglia.

85 E ’n la sua volontade è nostra pace:
86 ell’ è quel mare al qual tutto si move
87 ciò ch’ella crïa o che natura face».

88 Chiaro mi fu allor come ogne dove
89 in cielo è paradiso, etsi la grazia
90 del sommo ben d’un modo non vi piove.

91 Ma sì com’ elli avvien, s’un cibo sazia
92 e d’un altro rimane ancor la gola,
93 che quel si chere e di quel si ringrazia,

94 così fec’ io con atto e con parola,
95 per apprender da lei qual fu la tela
96 onde non trasse infino a co la spuola.

97 «Perfetta vita e alto merto inciela
98 donna più sù», mi disse, «a la cui norma
99 nel vostro mondo giù si veste e vela,

100 perché fino al morir si vegghi e dorma
101 con quello sposo ch’ogne voto accetta
102 che caritate a suo piacer conforma.

103 Dal mondo, per seguirla, giovinetta
104 fuggi’mi, e nel suo abito mi chiusi
105 e promisi la via de la sua setta.

106 Uomini poi, a mal più ch’a bene usi,
107 fuor mi rapiron de la dolce chiostra:
108 Iddio si sa qual poi mia vita fusi.

109 E quest’ altro splendor che ti si mostra
110 da la mia destra parte e che s’accende
111 di tutto il lume de la spera nostra,

112 ciò ch’io dico di me, di sé intende
113 sorella fu, e così le fu tolta
114 di capo l’ombra de le sacre bende.

115 Ma poi che pur al mondo fu rivolta
116 contra suo grado e contra buona usanza,
117 non fu dal vel del cor già mai disciolta.

118 Quest’ è la luce de la gran Costanza
119 che del secondo vento di Soave
120 generò ’l terzo e l’ultima possanza».

121 Così parlommi, e poi cominciò ‘Ave,
122 Maria’ cantando, e cantando vanio
123 come per acqua cupa cosa grave.

124 La vista mia, che tanto lei seguio
125 quanto possibil fu, poi che la perse,
126 volsesi al segno di maggior disio,

127 e a Beatrice tutta si converse
128 ma quella folgorò nel mïo sguardo
129 sì che da prima il viso non sofferse

130 e ciò mi fece a dimandar più tardo.

That sun which first had warmed my breast with love
had now revealed to me, confuting, proving,
the gentle face of truth, its loveliness

and I, in order to declare myself
corrected and convinced, lifted my head
as high as my confessional required.

But a new vision showed itself to me
the grip in which it held me was so fast
that I did not remember to confess.

Just as, returning through transparent, clean
glass, or through waters calm and crystalline
(so shallow that they scarcely can reflect),

the mirrored image of our faces meets
our pupils with no greater force than that
a pearl has when displayed on a white forehead—

so faint, the many faces I saw keen
to speak thus, my mistake was contrary
to that which led the man to love the fountain.

As soon as I had noticed them, thinking
that what I saw were merely mirrorings,
I turned around to see who they might be

and I saw nothing and I let my sight
turn back to meet the light of my dear guide,
who, as she smiled, glowed in her holy eyes.

“There is no need to wonder if I smile,”
she said, “because you reason like a child
your steps do not yet rest upon the truth

your mind misguides you into emptiness:
what you are seeing are true substances,
placed here because their vows were not fulfilled.

Thus, speak and listen trust what they will say:
the truthful light in which they find their peace
will not allow their steps to turn astray.”

Then I turned to the shade that seemed most anxious
to speak, and I began as would a man
bewildered by desire too intense:

“O spirit born to goodness, you who feel,
beneath the rays of the eternal life,
that sweetness which cannot be known unless

it is experienced, it would be gracious
of you to let me know your name and fate.”
At this, unhesitant, with smiling eyes:

“Our charity will never lock its gates
against just will our love is like the Love
that would have all Its court be like Itself.

Within the world I was a nun, a virgin
and if your mind attends and recollects,
my greater beauty here will not conceal me,

and you will recognize me as Piccarda,
who, placed here with the other blessed ones,
am blessed within the slowest of the spheres.

Our sentiments, which only serve the flame
that is the pleasure of the Holy Ghost,
delight in their conforming to His order.

And we are to be found within a sphere
this low, because we have neglected vows,
so that in some respect we were deficient.”

And I to her: “Within your wonderful
semblance there is something divine that glows,
transforming the appearance you once showed:

therefore, my recognizing you was slow
but what you now have told me is of help
I can identify you much more clearly.

But tell me: though you’re happy here, do you
desire a higher place in order to
see more and to be still more close to Him?”

Together with her fellow shades she smiled
at first then she replied to me with such
gladness, like one who burns with love’s first flame:

“Brother, the power of love appeases our
will so—we only long for what we have
we do not thirst for greater blessedness.

Should we desire a higher sphere than ours,
then our desires would be discordant with
the will of Him who has assigned us here,

but you’ll see no such discord in these spheres
to live in love is—here—necessity,
if you think on love’s nature carefully.

The essence of this blessed life consists
in keeping to the boundaries of God’s will,
through which our wills become one single will

so that, as we are ranged from step to step
throughout this kingdom, all this kingdom wills
that which will please the King whose will is rule.

And in His will there is our peace: that sea
to which all beings move—the beings He
creates or nature makes—such is His will.”

Then it was clear to me how every place
in Heaven is in Paradise, though grace
does not rain equally from the High Good.

But just as, when our hunger has been sated
with one food, we still long to taste the other—
while thankful for the first, we crave the latter—

so was I in my words and in my gestures,
asking to learn from her what was the web
of which her shuttle had not reached the end.

“A perfect life,” she said, “and her high merit
enheaven, up above, a woman whose
rule governs those who, in your world, would wear

nuns’ dress and veil, so that, until their death,
they wake and sleep with that Spouse who accepts
all vows that love conforms unto His pleasure.

Still young, I fled the world to follow her
and, in her order’s habit, I enclosed
myself and promised my life to her rule.

Then men more used to malice than to good
took me—violently—from my sweet cloister:
God knows what, after that, my life became.

This other radiance that shows itself
to you at my right hand, a brightness kindled
by all the light that fills our heaven—she

has understood what I have said: she was
a sister, and from her head, too, by force,
the shadow of the sacred veil was taken.

But though she had been turned back to the world
against her will, against all honest practice,
the veil upon her heart was never loosed.

This is the splendor of the great Costanza,
who from the Swabians’ second gust engendered
the one who was their third and final power.”

This said, she then began to sing “Ave
Maria” and, while singing, vanished as
a weighty thing will vanish in deep water.

My sight, which followed her as long as it
was able to, once she was out of view,
returned to where its greater longing lay,

and it was wholly bent on Beatrice
but she then struck my eyes with so much brightness
that I, at first, could not withstand her force

and that made me delay my questioning.

THAT Sun, which erst with love my bosom warmed,
Of beauteous truth had unto me discovered,
By proving and reproving, the sweet aspect.

And, that I might confess myself convinced
And confident, so far as was befitting,
I lifted more erect my head to speak.

But there appeared a vision, which withdrew me
So close to it, in order to be seen,
That my confession I remembered not.

Such as through polished and transparent glass,
Or waters crystalline and undisturbed,
But not so deep as that their bed be lost,

Come back again the outlines of our faces
So feeble, that a pearl on forehead white
Comes not less speedily unto our eyes

Such saw I many faces prompt to speak,
So that I ran in error opposite
To that which kindled love ‘twixt man and fountain.

As soon as I became aware of them,
Esteeming them as mirrored semblances,
To see of whom they were, mine eyes I turned,

And nothing saw, and once more turned them forward
Direct into the light of my sweet Guide,
Who smiling kindled in her holy eyes.

“Marvel thou not,”she said to me,”because
I smile at this thy puerile conceit,
Since on the truth it trusts not yet its foot,

But turns thee, as ’tis wont, on emptiness.
True substances are these which thou beholdest,
Here relegate for breaking of some vow.

Therefore speak with them, listen and believe
For the true light, which giveth peace to them,
Permits them not to turn from it their feet.”

And I unto the shade that seemed most wishful
To speak directed me, and I began,
As one whom too great eagerness bewilders:

“O well—created spirit, who in the rays
Of life eternal dost the sweetness taste
Which being untasted ne’er is comprehended.

Grateful ’twill be to me, if thou content me
Both with thy name and with your destiny.”
Whereat she promptly and with laughing eyes:

“Our charity doth never shut the doors
Against a just desire, except as one
Who wills that all her court be like herself.

I was a virgin sister in the world
And if thy mind doth contemplate me well,
The being more fair will not conceal me from thee,

But thou shalt recognise I am Piccarda,
Who, stationed here among these other blessed,
Myself am blessed in the slowest sphere.

All our affections, that alone inflamed
Are in the pleasure of the Holy Ghost,
Rejoice at being of his order formed

And this allotment, which appears so low,
Therefore is given us, because our vows
Have been neglected and in some part void.”

Whence I to her: “In your miraculous aspects
There shines I know not what of the divine,
Which doth transform you from our first conceptions.

Therefore I was not swift in my remembrance
But what thou tellest me now aids me so,
That the refiguring is easier to me.

But tell me, ye who in this place are happy,
Are you desirous of a higher place,
To see more or to make yourselves more friends ?”

First with those other shades she smiled a little
Thereafter answered me so full of gladness,
She seemed to burn in the first fire of love:

“Brother, our will is quieted by virtue
Of charity, that makes us wish alone
For what we have, nor gives us thirst for more.

If to be more exalted we aspired,
Discordant would our aspirations be
Unto the will of Him who here secludes us

Which thou shalt see finds no place in these circles,
If being in charity is needful here,
And if thou lookest well into its nature

Nay, ’tis essential to this blest existence
To keep itself within the will divine,
Whereby our very wishes are made one

So that, as we are station above station
Throughout this realm, to all the realm ’tis pleasing,
As to the King, who makes his will our will.

And his will is our peace this is the sea
To which is moving onward whatsoever
It doth create, and all that nature makes.”

Then it was clear to me how everywhere
In heaven is Paradise, although the grace
Of good supreme there rain not in one measure

But as it comes to pass, if one food sates,
And for another still remains the longing,
We ask for this, and that decline with thanks,

E’en thus did I with gesture and with word,
To learn from her what was the web wherein
She did not ply the shuttle to the end.

“A perfect life and merit high in—heaven
A lady o’er us,” said she, “by whose rule
Down in your world they vest and veil themselves,

That until death they may both watch and sleep
Beside that Spouse who every vow accepts
Which charity conformeth to his pleasure.

To follow her, in girlhood from the world
I fled, and in her habit shut myself,
And pledged me to the pathway of her sect.

Then men accustomed unto evil more
Than unto good, from the sweet cloister tore me
God knows what afterward my life became.

This other splendour, which to thee reveals
Itself on my right side, and is enkindled
With all the illumination of our sphere,

What of myself I say applies to her
A nun was she, and likewise from her head
Was ta’en the shadow of the sacred wimple.

But when she too was to the world returned
Against her wishes and against good usage,
Of the heart’s veil she never was divested.

Of great Costanza this is the effulgence,
Who from the second wind of Suabia
Brought forth the third and latest puissance.”

Thus unto me she spake, and then began
_”Ave Maria”_ singing, and in singing
Vanished, as through deep water something heavy.

My sight, that followed her as long a time
As it was possible, when it had lost her
Turned round unto the mark of more desire,

And wholly unto Beatrice reverted
But she such lightnings flashed into mine eyes,
That at the first my sight endured it not

And this in questioning more backward made me.

That sun which first had warmed my breast with love
had now revealed to me, confuting, proving,
the gentle face of truth, its loveliness

and I, in order to declare myself
corrected and convinced, lifted my head
as high as my confessional required.

But a new vision showed itself to me
the grip in which it held me was so fast
that I did not remember to confess.

Just as, returning through transparent, clean
glass, or through waters calm and crystalline
(so shallow that they scarcely can reflect),

the mirrored image of our faces meets
our pupils with no greater force than that
a pearl has when displayed on a white forehead—

so faint, the many faces I saw keen
to speak thus, my mistake was contrary
to that which led the man to love the fountain.

As soon as I had noticed them, thinking
that what I saw were merely mirrorings,
I turned around to see who they might be

and I saw nothing and I let my sight
turn back to meet the light of my dear guide,
who, as she smiled, glowed in her holy eyes.

“There is no need to wonder if I smile,”
she said, “because you reason like a child
your steps do not yet rest upon the truth

your mind misguides you into emptiness:
what you are seeing are true substances,
placed here because their vows were not fulfilled.

Thus, speak and listen trust what they will say:
the truthful light in which they find their peace
will not allow their steps to turn astray.”

Then I turned to the shade that seemed most anxious
to speak, and I began as would a man
bewildered by desire too intense:

“O spirit born to goodness, you who feel,
beneath the rays of the eternal life,
that sweetness which cannot be known unless

it is experienced, it would be gracious
of you to let me know your name and fate.”
At this, unhesitant, with smiling eyes:

“Our charity will never lock its gates
against just will our love is like the Love
that would have all Its court be like Itself.

Within the world I was a nun, a virgin
and if your mind attends and recollects,
my greater beauty here will not conceal me,

and you will recognize me as Piccarda,
who, placed here with the other blessed ones,
am blessed within the slowest of the spheres.

Our sentiments, which only serve the flame
that is the pleasure of the Holy Ghost,
delight in their conforming to His order.

And we are to be found within a sphere
this low, because we have neglected vows,
so that in some respect we were deficient.”

And I to her: “Within your wonderful
semblance there is something divine that glows,
transforming the appearance you once showed:

therefore, my recognizing you was slow
but what you now have told me is of help
I can identify you much more clearly.

But tell me: though you’re happy here, do you
desire a higher place in order to
see more and to be still more close to Him?”

Together with her fellow shades she smiled
at first then she replied to me with such
gladness, like one who burns with love’s first flame:

“Brother, the power of love appeases our
will so—we only long for what we have
we do not thirst for greater blessedness.

Should we desire a higher sphere than ours,
then our desires would be discordant with
the will of Him who has assigned us here,

but you’ll see no such discord in these spheres
to live in love is—here—necessity,
if you think on love’s nature carefully.

The essence of this blessed life consists
in keeping to the boundaries of God’s will,
through which our wills become one single will

so that, as we are ranged from step to step
throughout this kingdom, all this kingdom wills
that which will please the King whose will is rule.

And in His will there is our peace: that sea
to which all beings move—the beings He
creates or nature makes—such is His will.”

Then it was clear to me how every place
in Heaven is in Paradise, though grace
does not rain equally from the High Good.

But just as, when our hunger has been sated
with one food, we still long to taste the other—
while thankful for the first, we crave the latter—

so was I in my words and in my gestures,
asking to learn from her what was the web
of which her shuttle had not reached the end.

“A perfect life,” she said, “and her high merit
enheaven, up above, a woman whose
rule governs those who, in your world, would wear

nuns’ dress and veil, so that, until their death,
they wake and sleep with that Spouse who accepts
all vows that love conforms unto His pleasure.

Still young, I fled the world to follow her
and, in her order’s habit, I enclosed
myself and promised my life to her rule.

Then men more used to malice than to good
took me—violently—from my sweet cloister:
God knows what, after that, my life became.

This other radiance that shows itself
to you at my right hand, a brightness kindled
by all the light that fills our heaven—she

has understood what I have said: she was
a sister, and from her head, too, by force,
the shadow of the sacred veil was taken.

But though she had been turned back to the world
against her will, against all honest practice,
the veil upon her heart was never loosed.

This is the splendor of the great Costanza,
who from the Swabians’ second gust engendered
the one who was their third and final power.”

This said, she then began to sing “Ave
Maria” and, while singing, vanished as
a weighty thing will vanish in deep water.

My sight, which followed her as long as it
was able to, once she was out of view,
returned to where its greater longing lay,

and it was wholly bent on Beatrice
but she then struck my eyes with so much brightness
that I, at first, could not withstand her force

and that made me delay my questioning.

THAT Sun, which erst with love my bosom warmed,
Of beauteous truth had unto me discovered,
By proving and reproving, the sweet aspect.

And, that I might confess myself convinced
And confident, so far as was befitting,
I lifted more erect my head to speak.

But there appeared a vision, which withdrew me
So close to it, in order to be seen,
That my confession I remembered not.

Such as through polished and transparent glass,
Or waters crystalline and undisturbed,
But not so deep as that their bed be lost,

Come back again the outlines of our faces
So feeble, that a pearl on forehead white
Comes not less speedily unto our eyes

Such saw I many faces prompt to speak,
So that I ran in error opposite
To that which kindled love ‘twixt man and fountain.

As soon as I became aware of them,
Esteeming them as mirrored semblances,
To see of whom they were, mine eyes I turned,

And nothing saw, and once more turned them forward
Direct into the light of my sweet Guide,
Who smiling kindled in her holy eyes.

“Marvel thou not,”she said to me,”because
I smile at this thy puerile conceit,
Since on the truth it trusts not yet its foot,

But turns thee, as ’tis wont, on emptiness.
True substances are these which thou beholdest,
Here relegate for breaking of some vow.

Therefore speak with them, listen and believe
For the true light, which giveth peace to them,
Permits them not to turn from it their feet.”

And I unto the shade that seemed most wishful
To speak directed me, and I began,
As one whom too great eagerness bewilders:

“O well—created spirit, who in the rays
Of life eternal dost the sweetness taste
Which being untasted ne’er is comprehended.

Grateful ’twill be to me, if thou content me
Both with thy name and with your destiny.”
Whereat she promptly and with laughing eyes:

“Our charity doth never shut the doors
Against a just desire, except as one
Who wills that all her court be like herself.

I was a virgin sister in the world
And if thy mind doth contemplate me well,
The being more fair will not conceal me from thee,

But thou shalt recognise I am Piccarda,
Who, stationed here among these other blessed,
Myself am blessed in the slowest sphere.

All our affections, that alone inflamed
Are in the pleasure of the Holy Ghost,
Rejoice at being of his order formed

And this allotment, which appears so low,
Therefore is given us, because our vows
Have been neglected and in some part void.”

Whence I to her: “In your miraculous aspects
There shines I know not what of the divine,
Which doth transform you from our first conceptions.

Therefore I was not swift in my remembrance
But what thou tellest me now aids me so,
That the refiguring is easier to me.

But tell me, ye who in this place are happy,
Are you desirous of a higher place,
To see more or to make yourselves more friends ?”

First with those other shades she smiled a little
Thereafter answered me so full of gladness,
She seemed to burn in the first fire of love:

“Brother, our will is quieted by virtue
Of charity, that makes us wish alone
For what we have, nor gives us thirst for more.

If to be more exalted we aspired,
Discordant would our aspirations be
Unto the will of Him who here secludes us

Which thou shalt see finds no place in these circles,
If being in charity is needful here,
And if thou lookest well into its nature

Nay, ’tis essential to this blest existence
To keep itself within the will divine,
Whereby our very wishes are made one

So that, as we are station above station
Throughout this realm, to all the realm ’tis pleasing,
As to the King, who makes his will our will.

And his will is our peace this is the sea
To which is moving onward whatsoever
It doth create, and all that nature makes.”

Then it was clear to me how everywhere
In heaven is Paradise, although the grace
Of good supreme there rain not in one measure

But as it comes to pass, if one food sates,
And for another still remains the longing,
We ask for this, and that decline with thanks,

E’en thus did I with gesture and with word,
To learn from her what was the web wherein
She did not ply the shuttle to the end.

“A perfect life and merit high in—heaven
A lady o’er us,” said she, “by whose rule
Down in your world they vest and veil themselves,

That until death they may both watch and sleep
Beside that Spouse who every vow accepts
Which charity conformeth to his pleasure.

To follow her, in girlhood from the world
I fled, and in her habit shut myself,
And pledged me to the pathway of her sect.

Then men accustomed unto evil more
Than unto good, from the sweet cloister tore me
God knows what afterward my life became.

This other splendour, which to thee reveals
Itself on my right side, and is enkindled
With all the illumination of our sphere,

What of myself I say applies to her
A nun was she, and likewise from her head
Was ta’en the shadow of the sacred wimple.

But when she too was to the world returned
Against her wishes and against good usage,
Of the heart’s veil she never was divested.

Of great Costanza this is the effulgence,
Who from the second wind of Suabia
Brought forth the third and latest puissance.”

Thus unto me she spake, and then began
_”Ave Maria”_ singing, and in singing
Vanished, as through deep water something heavy.

My sight, that followed her as long a time
As it was possible, when it had lost her
Turned round unto the mark of more desire,

And wholly unto Beatrice reverted
But she such lightnings flashed into mine eyes,
That at the first my sight endured it not

And this in questioning more backward made me.

Dante and Beatrice meet Piccarda, the sister of Forese Donati, who explains that all the souls in Paradise are happy to assume their rightful places in God’s order. She also introduces them to Empress Constance of Sicily.


Pope's Apostolic Letter on Dante Alighieri

SPLENDOUR OF LIGHT ETERNAL, the Word of God became flesh from the Virgin Mary when, to the message of the angel, she responded: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (cf. Lk 1:38). The liturgical feast that celebrates this ineffable mystery held a special place in the life and work of the supreme poet Dante Alighieri, a prophet of hope and a witness to the innate yearning for the infinite present in the human heart. On this Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, I readily add my voice to the great chorus of those who honour his memory in the year marking the seventh centenary of his death.

In Florence, which reckoned time ab Incarnatione, 25 March was the first day of the calendar year. Because of its closeness to the spring equinox and the Church’s celebration of the paschal mysteries, the feast of the Annunciation was likewise associated with the creation of the world and the dawn of the new creation through the redemption won by Christ on the cross. It thus invites us to contemplate, in light of the Word made flesh, the loving plan that is the heart and inspiration of Dante’s most famous work, the Divine Comedy, in whose final canto Saint Bernard celebrates the event of the incarnation in the memorable verses:

Earlier, in the Purgatorio, Dante had depicted the scene of the Annunciation sculpted on a rocky crag (X, 34-37, 40-45)

On this anniversary, the voice of the Church can hardly be absent from the universal commemoration of the man and poet Dante Alighieri. Better than most, Dante knew how to express with poetic beauty the depth of the mystery of God and love. His poem, one of the highest expressions of human genius, was the fruit of a new and deeper inspiration, to which the poet referred in calling it:

With this Apostolic Letter, I wish to join my Predecessors who honoured and extolled the poet Dante, particularly on the anniversaries of his birth or death, and to propose him anew for the consideration of the Church, the great body of the faithful, literary scholars, theologians and artists. I will briefly review those interventions, concentrating on the Popes of the last century and their more significant statements.

1. The Popes of the last century and Dante Alighieri

A hundred years ago, in 1921, Benedict XV commemorated the sixth centenary of the poet’s death by issuing an Encyclical Letter[1] that made ample reference to earlier interventions by the Popes, particularly Leo XIII and Saint Pius X, and by encouraging the restoration of the Church of Saint Peter Major in Ravenna, popularly known as San Francesco, where Dante’s funeral was celebrated and his remains were buried. The Pope expressed appreciation for the many initiatives undertaken to celebrate the anniversary and defended the right of the Church, “which was to him a mother”, to take a leading role in those commemorations, honouring Dante as one of her children.[2] Previously, in a Letter to Archbishop Pasquale Morganti of Ravenna, Benedict XV had approved the programme of the centenary celebrations, adding that, “there is also a special reason why we deem that his solemn anniversary should be celebrated with grateful memory and broad participation: the fact that Alighieri is our own… Indeed, who can deny that our Dante nurtured and fanned the flame of his genius and poetic gifts by drawing inspiration from the Catholic faith, to such an extent that he celebrated the sublime mysteries of religion in a poem almost divine?”[3]

In a historical period marked by hostility to the Church, Pope Benedict reaffirmed the poet’s fidelity to the Church, “the intimate union of Dante with this Chair of Peter”. Indeed, he noted that the poet’s work, while an expression of the “grandeur and keenness of his genius”, drew “powerful inspiration” precisely from the Christian faith. For this reason, the Pope continued, “we admire in him not only supreme height of genius but also the vastness of the subject that holy religion offered for his poetry”. In extolling Dante, Benedict was responding indirectly to those who denied or criticized the religious inspiration of his work. “There breathes in Alighieri the devotion that we too feel his faith resonates with ours… That is his great glory, to be a Christian poet, to have sung with almost divine notes those Christian ideals that he so passionately contemplated in all their splendour and beauty”. Dante’s work, the Pope stated, shows eloquently and effectively “how false it is to say that obedience of mind and heart to God is a hindrance to genius, which instead it spurs on and elevates”. For this reason, the Pope continued, “the teachings bequeathed to us by Dante in all his works, but especially in his threefold poem”, can serve “as a most precious guide for the men and women of our own time”, particularly students and scholars, since “in composing his poem, Dante had no other purpose than to raise mortals from the state of misery, that is from the state of sin, and lead them to the state of happiness, that is of divine grace”.

In 1965, for the seventh centenary of Dante’s birth, Saint Paul VI intervened on a number of occasions. On 19 September that year, he donated a golden cross to adorn the shrine in Ravenna that preserves Dante’s tomb, which previously had lacked “such a sign of religion and hope”.[4] On 14 November, he sent a golden laurel wreath to Florence, to be mounted in the Baptistery of Saint John. Finally, at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, he wished to present the Council Fathers with an artistic edition of the Divine Comedy. Above all, however, Pope Paul honoured the memory of the great poet with an Apostolic Letter, Altissimi Cantus,[5] in which he reaffirmed the strong bond uniting the Church and Dante Alighieri. “There may be some who ask why the Catholic Church, by the will of its visible Head, is so concerned to cultivate the memory and celebrate the glory of the Florentine poet. Our response is easy: by special right, Dante is ours! Ours, by which we mean to say, of the Catholic faith, for he radiated love for Christ ours, because he loved the Church deeply and sang her glories and ours too, because he acknowledged and venerated in the Roman Pontiff the Vicar of Christ”.

Yet this right, the Pope added, far from justifying a certain triumphalism, also entails an obligation: “Dante is ours, we may well insist, but we say this not to treat him as a trophy for our own glorification, but to be reminded of our duty, in honouring him, to explore the inestimable treasures of Christian thought and sentiment present in his work. For we are convinced that only by better appreciating the religious spirit of the sovereign poet can we come to understand and savour more fully its marvellous spiritual riches”. Nor does this obligation exempt the Church from accepting also the prophetic criticisms uttered by the poet with regard to those charged with proclaiming the Gospel and representing, not themselves, but Christ. “The Church does not hesitate to acknowledge that Dante spoke scathingly of more than one Pope, and had harsh rebukes for ecclesiastical institutions and for those who were representatives and ministers of the Church”. All the same, it is clear that “such fiery attitudes never shook his firm Catholic faith and his filial affection for Holy Church”.

Paul VI went on to illustrate what makes the Comedy a source of spiritual enrichment accessible to everyone. “Dante’s poem is universal: in its immense scope, it embraces heaven and earth, eternity and time, divine mysteries and human events, sacred doctrine and teachings drawn from the light of reason, the fruits of personal experience and the annals of history”. Above all, he stressed the intrinsic purpose of Dante’s writings, and the Divine Comedy in particular, a purpose not always clearly appreciated or duly acknowledged. “The aim of the Divine Comedy is primarily practical and transformative. It seeks not only to be beautiful and morally elevating poetry, but to effect a radical change, leading men and women from chaos to wisdom, from sin to holiness, from poverty to happiness, from the terrifying contemplation of hell to the beatific contemplation of heaven”.

Writing at a time of grave international tension, the Pope sought constantly to uphold the ideal of peace, and found in Dante’s work a precious means for encouraging and sustaining that ideal. “The peace of individuals, families, nations and the human community, this peace internal and external, private and public, this tranquillity of order is disturbed and shaken because piety and justice are being trampled upon. To restore order and salvation, faith and reason, Beatrice and Virgil, the Cross and the Eagle, Church and Empire are called to operate in harmony”. In this vein, he spoke of Dante’s poem as a paean to peace. “The Divine Comedy is a poem of peace: the Inferno a dirge for peace forever lost, the Purgatorio a wistful hymn of hope for peace, and the Paradiso a triumphant anthem of peace fully and eternally possessed”.

Viewed in this way, the Pope continued, the Comedy is “a poem of social improvement through the attainment of a freedom liberated from enslavement to evil and directed to the knowledge and love of God” and an expression of authentic humanism. “In Dante all human values – intellectual, moral, emotional, cultural and civic – are acknowledged and exalted. It should be noted, however, that this appreciation and esteem were the fruit of his deepening experience of the divine, as his contemplation was gradually purified of earthly elements”. Rightly, therefore, could the Comedy be described as Divine, and Dante called the “supreme poet” and, in the opening words of the same Apostolic Letter, “the lord of sublime song”.

In praising Dante’s extraordinary artistic and literary gifts, Paul VI also restated a familiar principle. “Theology and philosophy are intrinsically related to beauty: to their teachings beauty lends its own vesture and adornment. Through music and the figurative and plastic arts, beauty opens a path that makes their lofty teachings accessible to many others. Erudite disquisitions and subtle reasoning are not easily understood by many people, yet they too hunger for the bread of truth. Attracted by beauty, they come to recognize and appreciate the light of truth and the fulfilment it brings. This is what the lord of sublime song understood and achieved for him beauty became the handmaid of goodness and truth, and goodness a thing of beauty”. Citing a line of the Comedy, Pope Paul concluded with the exhortation: “All honour be paid to the pre-eminent poet!” (Inf. IV, 80).

Saint John Paul II often referred to Dante in his addresses. Here, I would mention only that of 30 May 1985, for the inauguration of the exhibition Dante in the Vatican. Like Paul VI, he highlighted Dante’s artistic genius, speaking of the poet’s work as “a vision of reality that speaks of the life to come and the mystery of God with the vigour of theological thought transformed by the combined splendour of art and poetry”. Pope John Paul reflected in particular on a key word from the Comedy: “Trasumanare: to pass beyond the human. This was Dante’s ultimate effort: to ensure that the burden of what is human would not destroy the divine within us, nor that the greatness of the divine would cancel the value of what is human. For this reason the poet rightly interpreted his own personal history and that of all humanity in a theological key”.

Benedict XVI frequently spoke of Dante’s journey and from his poetry drew points for reflection and meditation. For example, in speaking of the theme of his first Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, he began precisely from Dante’s vision of God, in whom “light and love are one and the same”, in order to emphasize the novelty found in Dante’s work. “Dante perceives something completely new… the eternal light is shown in three circles which Dante addresses using those terse verses familiar to us:

Indeed, even more impressive than this revelation of God as a Trinitarian circle of knowledge and love, is his discernment of a human face – the face of Jesus Christ – in the central circle of that light. God thus has a human face and – we might add – a human heart”.[6] The Pope stressed the originality of Dante’s vision, which gave poetic expression to the newness of the Christian experience, born of the mystery of the incarnation: “the novelty of a love that moved God to take on a human face, and even more, to take on flesh and blood, our entire humanity”.[7]

In my first Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei,[8] I described the light of faith using an image drawn from the Paradiso, which speaks of that light as a “spark,Which afterwards dilates to vivid flame,And, like a star in heaven, is sparkling in me” (Par. XXIV, 145-147).

I then commemorated the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth with a message, in which I expressed my hope that “the figure of Alighieri and his work will be newly understood and appreciated”. I proposed reading the Comedy as “an epic journey, indeed, a true pilgrimage, personal and interior, yet also communal, ecclesial, social and historical”, inasmuch as “it represents the paradigm for every authentic journey whereby mankind is called to leave behind what the poet calls ‘the threshing-floor that maketh us so proud’ (Par. XXII, 151), in order to attain a new state of harmony, peace and happiness”.[9] Dante can thus speak to the men and women of our own day as “a prophet of hope, a herald of the possibility of redemption, liberation and profound change for each individual and for humanity as a whole”.[10]

More recently, on 10 October 2020, addressing a delegation from the Archdiocese of Ravenna-Cervia for the inauguration of the Year of Dante, I announced my intention to issue the present Letter. I noted that Dante’s work can also enrich the minds and hearts of all those, especially the young who, once introduced to his poetry “in a way that is accessible to them, inevitably sense on the one hand a great distance from the author and his world, and yet on the other a remarkable resonance with their own experience”.[11]

2. The life of Dante Alighieri: a paradigm of the human condition

With the present Apostolic Letter, I too would like to consider the life and work of the great poet and to explore its “resonance” with our own experience. I wish also to reaffirm its perennial timeliness and importance, and to appreciate the enduring warnings and insights it contains for humanity as a whole, not simply believers. Dante’s work is an integral part of our culture, taking us back to the Christian roots of Europe and the West. It embodies that patrimony of ideals and values that the Church and civil society continue to propose as the basis of a humane social order in which all can and must see others as brothers and sisters. Without entering into the complex personal, political and judicial aspects of Dante’s biography, I would briefly mention some events in his life that make him appear remarkably close to many of our contemporaries and that remain essential for understanding his work.

Dante was born in 1265 in Florence and married Gemma Donati, who bore him four children. He remained deeply attached to his native city, despite the political disputes that in time caused him to be at odds with it. To the end he desired to return to Florence, not only because of his continued affection for his birthplace, but above all so that he could be crowned a poet in the place where he had received baptism and the gift of faith (cf. Par. XXV, 1-9). In the headings of some of his Letters (III, V, VI and VII) Dante refers to himself as “florentinus et exul inmeritus”, while in that addressed to Cangrande della Scala (XIII), he styles himself “florentinus natione non moribus”.

A white Guelph, Dante found himself embroiled in the conflict between Guelphs and Ghibellines, and between white and black Guelphs. He held important public offices, including a term as Prior, but in 1302, as a result of political unrest, he was exiled for two years, banned from holding public office and sentenced to pay a fine. Dante rejected the decision as unjust, which only made his punishment more severe: perpetual exile, confiscation of his goods and a death sentence if he returned to Florence. This was the beginning of Dante’s painful exile and his fruitless efforts to return to his native city, for which he had passionately fought.

He thus became an exile, a “pensive pilgrim” reduced to a state of “grievous poverty” (Convivio, I, III, 5). This led him to seek refuge and protection with various noble families, including the Scaligers of Verona and the Malaspina of Lunigiana. The words spoken by Cacciaguida, the poet’s ancestor, capture something of the bitterness and despair of his new situation:

In 1315, after refusing to accept the humiliating amnesty conditions that would have allowed him to return to Florence, Dante was once more sentenced to death, this time together with his adolescent children. His final place of exile was Ravenna, where he was hospitably received by Guido Novello da Polenta. There he died on the night between 13 and 14 September 1321, at the age of fifty-six, upon his return from a mission to Venice. His tomb was originally set into the outer wall of the old Franciscan cloister of Saint Peter Major, then relocated in 1865 to the adjacent eighteenth-century shrine which even today remains the goal of countless visitors and admirers of the great poet, the father of Italian language and literature.

In exile, Dante’s love for Florence, betrayed by the “iniquitous Florentines” (Ep. VI, 1), was transformed into bittersweet nostalgia. His deep disappointment over the collapse of his political and civil ideals, together with his dreary wanderings from city to city in search of refuge and support are not absent from his literary and poetic work indeed, they constitute its very source and inspiration. When Dante describes the pilgrims setting out for the holy places, he hints at his own state of mind and inmost feelings: “O pilgrims who make your way deep in thought. ” (Vita Nuova, 29 [XL (XLI), 9], v.1). This motif recurs frequently, as in the verse of the Purgatorio:

We can also see the poignant melancholy of Dante the pilgrim and exile in his celebrated verses of the eighth canto of the Purgatorio:

Dante, pondering his life of exile, radical uncertainty, fragility, and constant moving from place to place, sublimated and transformed his personal experience, making it a paradigm of the human condition, viewed as a journey – spiritual and physical – that continues until it reaches its goal. Here two fundamental themes of Dante’s entire work come to the fore, namely, that every existential journey begins with an innate desire in the human heart and that this desire attains fulfilment in the happiness bestowed by the vision of the Love who is God.

For all the tragic, sorrowful and distressing events he experienced, the great poet never surrendered or succumbed. He refused to repress his heart’s yearning for fulfilment and happiness or to resign himself to injustice, hypocrisy, the arrogance of the powerful or the selfishness that turns our world into “the threshing-floor that maketh us so proud” (Par. XXII, 151).

3. The poet’s mission as a prophet of hope

Reviewing the events of his life above all in the light of faith, Dante discovered his personal vocation and mission. From this, paradoxically, he emerged no longer an apparent failure, a sinner, disillusioned and demoralized, but a prophet of hope. In the Letter to Cangrande della Scala, he described with remarkable clarity the aim of his life’s work, no longer pursued through political or military activity, but by poetry, the art of the word which, by speaking to all, has the power to change the life of each. “We must say briefly that the purpose of our whole work and its individual parts is to remove from their state of misery those who live this life and to lead them to a state of happiness” (XIII, 39 [15]). In this sense, it was meant to inspire a journey of liberation from every form of misery and human depravity (the “forest dark”), while at the same time pointing toward the ultimate goal of that journey: happiness, understood both as the fullness of life in time and history, and as eternal beatitude in God.

Dante thus became the herald, prophet and witness of this twofold end, this bold programme of life, and as such was confirmed in his mission by Beatrice:

His ancestor Cacciaguida likewise urges him not to falter in his mission. After the poet briefly describes his journey in the three realms of the afterlife and acknowledges the dire consequences of proclaiming uncomfortable or painful truths, his illustrious forebear replies:

Saint Peter likewise encourages Dante to embark courageously upon his prophetic mission. The Apostle, following a bitter invective against Boniface VIII, tells the poet:

Dante’s prophetic mission thus entailed denouncing and criticizing those believers – whether Popes or the ordinary faithful – who betray Christ and turn the Church into a means for advancing their own interests while ignoring the spirit of the Beatitudes and the duty of charity towards the defenceless and poor, and instead idolizing power and riches:

Yet, even as he denounces corruption in parts of the Church, Dante also becomes – through the words of Saint Peter Damian, Saint Benedict and Saint Peter – an advocate for her profound renewal and implores God’s providence to bring this about:

Dante the exile, the pilgrim, powerless yet confirmed by the profound interior experience that had changed his life, was reborn as a result of the vision that, from the depths of hell, from the ultimate degradation of our humanity, elevated him to the very vision of God. He thus emerged as the herald of a new existence, the prophet of a new humanity that thirsts for peace and happiness.

4. Dante as the poet of human desire

Dante reads the depths of the human heart. In everyone, even in the most abject and disturbing figures, he can discern a spark of the desire to attain some measure of happiness and fulfilment. He stops and listens to the souls he meets he converses with them and questions them, and thus identifies with them and shares in their torments or their bliss. Starting from his own personal situation, Dante becomes the interpreter of the universal human desire to follow the journey of life to its ultimate destination, when the fullness of truth and the answers to life’s meaning will be revealed and, in the words of Saint Augustine,[12] our hearts find their rest and peace in God.

In the Convivio, Dante analyses the dynamism of desire: “The ultimate desire of every being, and the first bestowed by nature, is the desire to return to its first cause. And since God is the first cause of our souls… the soul desires first and foremost to return to him. Like a pilgrim who travels an unknown road and believes every house he sees is the hostel, and upon finding that it is not, transfers this belief to the next house he sees, and the next, and the next, until at last he arrives at the hostel, so it is with our souls. As soon as it sets out on the new and untravelled road of this life, the soul incessantly seeks its supreme good consequently, whenever it sees something apparently good, it considers that the supreme good” (IV, XII, 14-15).

Dante’s journey, especially as it appears in the Divine Comedy, was truly a journey of desire, of a deep interior resolve to change his life, to discover happiness and to show the way to others who, like him, find themselves in a “forest dark” after losing “the right way”. It is significant that, at the very start of this journey, his guide – the great Latin poet Virgil – points to its goal and urges him not to succumb to fear or fatigue:

5. The poet of God’s mercy and human freedom

The journey that Dante presents is not illusory or utopian it is realistic and within the reach of everyone, for God’s mercy always offers the possibility of change, conversion, new self-awareness and discovery of the path to true happiness. Significant in this regard are several episodes and individuals in the Comedy which show that no one on earth is precluded from this path. There is the emperor Trajan, a pagan who nonetheless is placed in heaven. Dante justifies his presence thus:

Trajan’s gesture of charity towards a “poor widow” (45), or the “little tear” of repentance shed at the point of death by Buonconte di Montefeltro (Purg. V, 107), are not only signs of God’s infinite mercy, but also confirm that human beings remain ever free to choose which path to follow and which destiny to embrace.

Significant too is King Manfred, placed by Dante in Purgatory, who thus describes his death and God’s judgement:

Here we can almost glimpse the father in the Gospel parable who welcomes with open arms the return of his prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:11-32).

Dante champions the dignity and freedom of each human being as the basis for decisions in life and for faith itself. Our eternal destiny – so Dante suggests by recounting the stories of so many individuals great and small – depends on our free decisions. Even our ordinary and apparently insignificant actions have a meaning that transcends time: they possess an eternal dimension. The greatest of God’s gifts is the freedom that enables us to reach our ultimate goal, as Beatrice tells us:

These are not vague rhetorical statements, for they spring from the lives of men and women who knew the cost of freedom:

Freedom, Dante reminds us, is not an end unto itself it is a condition for rising constantly higher. His journey through the three kingdoms vividly illustrates this ascent, which ultimately reaches heaven and the experience of utter bliss. The “profound desire” (Par. XXII, 61) awakened by freedom is not sated until it attains its goal, the final vision and the blessedness it brings:

Desire thus becomes prayer, supplication, intercession and song accompanying and marking Dante’s journey, just as liturgical prayer marks the hours and moments of the day. The poet’s paraphrase of the Our Father (cf. Purg. XI, 1-21) intertwines the Gospel text with all the hardships and sufferings of daily experience:

The freedom of those who believe in God as a merciful Father can only be offered back to him in prayer. Nor does this detract in the least from that freedom it only strengthens it.

6. The image of man in the vision of God

Throughout the journey of the Comedy, as Pope Benedict XVI noted, the interplay of freedom and desire does not entail, as one might think, a diminution of our concrete humanity or a kind of self-alienation it does not destroy or disregard our historicity. In the Paradiso, Dante represents the blessed – the “white stoles” (XXX, 129) – in their bodily form, portraying their affections and emotions, their glances and their gestures in a word, he shows us humanity in its ultimate perfection of soul and body, prefiguring the resurrection of the flesh. Saint Bernard, who accompanies Dante on the last stretch of the journey, points out to the poet the presence of small children in the rose of the blessed he tells him to watch them and to listen to their voices:

It is touching to think that the luminous presence of the blessed in their full humanity is motivated not only by their affection for their loved ones, but above all by the explicit desire once more to see their bodies, their earthly features:

Finally, at the centre of the final vision, in his encounter with the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, Dante descries a human face, the face of Christ, the eternal Word made flesh in the womb of Mary:

Only in the visio Dei does our human desire attain fulfilment and our arduous journey come to its end:

The mystery of the incarnation, which we celebrate today, is the true heart and inspiration of the entire poem. For it effected what the Fathers of the Church call our “divinization”, the admirabile commercium, the prodigious exchange whereby God enters our history by becoming flesh, and humanity, in its flesh, is enabled to enter the realm of the divine, symbolized by the rose of the blessed. Our humanity, in its concreteness, with our daily gestures and words, with our intelligence and affections, with our bodies and emotions, is taken up into God, in whom it finds true happiness and ultimate fulfilment, the goal of all its journeying. Dante had desired and looked forward to this goal at the beginning of the Paradiso:

7. The three women of the Comedy: Mary, Beatrice and Lucy

In celebrating the mystery of the incarnation, the source of salvation and joy for all humanity, Dante cannot but sing the praises of Mary, the Virgin Mother who, by her fiat, her full and total acceptance of God’s plan, enabled the Word to become flesh. In Dante’s work, we find a splendid treatise of Mariology. With sublime lyricism, particularly in the prayer of Saint Bernard, the poet synthesizes theology’s reflection on the figure of Mary and her participation in the mystery of God:

The opening oxymoron and the subsequent flood of contrasts celebrate the uniqueness of Mary and her singular beauty.

Pointing to the blessed arrayed in the mystical rose, Saint Bernard invites Dante to contemplate Mary, who gave a human face to the Incarnate Word:

The mystery of the Incarnation is again evoked by the presence of the Archangel Gabriel. Dante questions Saint Bernard:

To which Bernard responds:

References to Mary abound in the Divine Comedy. In the Purgatorio, at every step of the way she embodies the virtues opposed to the vices she is the morning star who helps the poet to emerge from the dark forest and to seek the mountain of God the invocation of her name,

prepares the pilgrim for the encounter with Christ and the mystery of God.

Dante is never alone on his journey. He lets himself be guided, first by Virgil, a symbol of human reason, and then by Beatrice and Saint Bernard. Now, through the intercession of Mary, he can rise to our heavenly homeland and taste in its fullness the joy that had been his life-long desire:

“and distilleth yet
Within my heart the sweetness born of it” (Par. XXXIII, 62-63).

We are not saved alone, the poet seems to repeat, conscious of his need:

The journey needs to be made in the company of another, whocan support us and guide us with wisdom and prudence.

Here we see how significant is the presence of women in the poem. At the beginning of Dante’s arduous journey, Virgil, his first guide, comforts and encourages Dante to persevere because three women are interceding for him and will guide his steps: Mary, the Mother of God, representing charity Beatrice, representing hope and Saint Lucy, representing faith. Beatrice is introduced in the poignant verses:

Love thus appears as the sole means of our salvation, the divine love that transfigures human love. Beatrice speaks in turn of the intercession of yet another woman, the Virgin Mary:

Lucy then intervenes, addressing Beatrice:

Dante recognizes that only one moved by love can truly support us on the journey and bring us to salvation, to renewed life and thus to happiness.

8. Francis, the spouse of Lady Poverty

In the pure white rose of the blessed, with Mary as its radiant centre, Dante places a number of saints whose life and mission he describes. He presents them as men and women who, in the concrete events of life and despite many trials, achieved the ultimate purpose of their life and vocation. Here I will mention only Saint Francis of Assisi, as portrayed in Canto XI of the Paradiso, the sphere of the wise.

Saint Francis and Dante had much in common. Francis, with his followers, left the cloister and went out among the people, in small towns and the streets of the cities, preaching to them and visiting their homes. Dante made the choice, unusual for that age, to compose his great poem on the afterlife in the vernacular, and to populate his tale with characters both famous and obscure, yet equal in dignity to the rulers of this world. Another feature common to the two was their sensitivity to the beauty and worth of creation as the reflection and imprint of its Creator. We can hardly fail to hear in Dante’s paraphrase of the Our Father an echo of Saint Francis’s Canticle of the Sun:

In Canto XI of the Paradiso, this comparison becomes even more pronounced. The sanctity and wisdom of Francis stand out precisely because Dante, gazing from heaven upon the earth, sees the crude vulgarity of those who trust in earthly goods:

The entire history of Saint Francis, his “admirable life”, revolved around his privileged relationship with Lady Poverty:

The canto of Saint Francis recalls the salient moments of his life, his trials and ultimately the moment when his configuration to Christ, poor and crucified, found its ultimate divine confirmation in his reception of the stigmata:

9. Accepting the testimony of Dante Alighieri

At the conclusion of this brief glance at Dante Alighieri’s work, an almost inexhaustible mine of knowledge, experience and thought in every field of human research, we are invited to reflect on its significance. The wealth of characters, stories, symbols and evocative images that the poet sets before us certainly awakens our admiration, wonder and gratitude. In Dante we can almost glimpse a forerunner of our multimedia culture, in which word and image, symbol and sound, poetry and dance converge to convey a single message. It is understandable, then, that his poem has inspired the creation of countless works of art in every genre.

But the work of the supreme poet also raises provocative questions for our own times. What can he communicate to us in this day and age? Does he still have anything to say to us or offer us? Is his message relevant or useful to us? Can it still challenge us?

Dante today – if we can presume to speak for him – does not wish merely to be read, commented on, studied and analyzed. Rather, he asks to be heard and even imitated he invites us to become his companions on the journey. Today, too, he wants to show us the route to happiness, the right path to live a fully human life, emerging from the dark forest in which we lose our bearings and the sense of our true worth. Dante’s journey and his vision of life beyond death are not just a story to be told they are more than the account of a personal experience, however exceptional.

If Dante tells his tale admirably, using thsal language, it is because he has an important message to convey, one meant to touch our hearts and minds, to transform and change us even now, in this present life. A message that can and should make us appreciate fully who we are and the meaning of our daily struggles to achieve happiness, fulfilment and our ultimate end, our true homeland, where we will be in full communion with God, infinite and eternal Love. Dante was a man of his time, with sensibilities different from ours in certain areas, yet his humanism remains timely and relevant, a sure reference point for what we hope to accomplish in our own day.

It is fitting, then, that the present anniversary serve as an incentive to make Dante’s work better known and appreciated, accessible and attractive, not only to students and scholars but to all those who seek answers to their deepest questions and wish to live their lives to the full, purposefully undertaking their own journey of life and faith, with gratitude for the gift and responsibility of freedom.

I express my deep appreciation, then, to those teachers who passionately communicate Dante’s message and introduce others to the cultural, religious and moral riches contained in his works. Yet this great heritage cries out to be made accessible beyond the halls of schools and universities.

I urge Christian communities, especially in cities associated with Dante’s life, academic institutions and cultural associations to promote initiatives aimed at making better known his message in all its fullness.

In a special way, I encourage artists to give voice, face and heart, form, colour and sound to Dante’s poetry by following the path of beauty which he so masterfully travelled. And thus to communicate the most profound truths and to proclaim, in the language of their art, a message of peace, freedom and fraternity.

At this particular moment in history, overclouded by situations of profound inhumanity and a lack of confidence and prospects for the future, the figure of Dante, prophet of hope and witness to the human desire for happiness, can still provide us with words and examples that encourage us on our journey. Dante can help us to advance with serenity and courage on the pilgrimage of life and faith that each of us is called to make, until our hearts find true peace and true joy, until we arrive at the ultimate goal of all humanity:

From the Vatican, on 25 March, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, in the year 2021, the ninth of my Pontificate.


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