Divine Comedy - Hell (Inferno)

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[1] Mr. Lowell's essay on Dante makes other writing about the poet or the poem seem ineffectual and superfluous. I must assume that it will be familiar to the readers of my version, at least to those among them who desire truly to understand the Divine Comedy.

The scene of the poem is the spiritual world, of which we are members even while still denizens mu the world of time. In the spiritual world the results of sin or perverted love, and of virtue or right love, in this life of probation, are manifest. The life to come is but the fulfilment of the life that now is. This is the truth that Dante sought to enforce. The allegory in which he cloaked it is of a character that separates the Divine Comedy from all other works of similar intent, In The Pilgrim's Progress, for example, the personages introduced are mere simulacra of men and women, the types of moral qualities or religious dispositions. They are abstractions which the genius of Bunyan fails to inform with vitality sufficient to kindle the imagination of the reader with a sense of their actual, living and breathing existence. But in the Divine Comedy the personages are all from real life, they are men and women with their natural passions and emotions, and they are undergoing an actual experience. The allegory consists in making their characters and their fates, what all human characters and fates really are, the types and images of spiritual law. Virgil and Beatrice, whose nature as depicted in the poem makes nearest approach to purely abstract and typical existence, are always consistently presented as living individuals, exalted indeed in wisdom and power, but with hardly less definite and concrete humanity than that of Dante himself.

The scheme of the created Universe held by the Christians of the Middle Ages was comparatively simple, and so definite that Dante, in accepting it in its main features without modification, was provided with the limited stage that was requisite for his design, and of which the general disposition was familiar to all his readers. The three spiritual realms had their local bounds marked out as clearly as those of time earth itself. Their cosmography was but an extension of the largely hypothetical geography of the tune.

The Earth was the centre of the Universe, and its northern hemisphere was the abode of man. At the middle point of this hemisphere stood Jerusalem, equidistant from the Pillars of Hercules on the West, and the Ganges on the East.

Within the body of this hemisphere was hell, shared as a vast cone, of which the apex was the centre of the globe; and here, according to Dante, was the seat of Lucifer. The concave of Hell had been formed by his fall, when a portion of the solid earth, through fear of him, ran back to the southern uninhabited hemisphere, and formed there, directly antipodal to Jerusalem, the mountain of Purgatory which rose from the waste of waters that covered this half of the globe. Purgatory was shaped as a cone, of similar dimensions to that of Hell, amid at its summit was the Terrestrial Paradise.

Immediately surrounding the atmosphere of the Earth was the sphere of elemental fire. Around this was the Heaven of the Moon, and encircling this, in order, were the Heavens of Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jove, Saturn, the Fixed Stars, and the Crystalline or first moving Heaven. These nine concentric Heavens revolved continually around the Earth, and in proportion to their distance from it was time greater swiftness of each. Encircling all was the Empyrean, increate, incorporeal, motionless, unbounded in time or space, the proper seat of God, the home of the Angels, the abode of the Elect.

The Angelic Hierarchy consisted of nine orders, corresponding to the nine moving heavens. Their blessedness and the swiftness of time motion with which in unending delight they circled around God were in proportion to their nearness to Him, --first the Seraphs, then the Cherubs, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Princes, Archangels, and Angels. Through them, under the general name of Intelligences, the Divine influence was transmitted to the Heavens, giving to them their circular motion, which was the expression of their longing to be united with the source of their creation. The Heavens in their turn streamed down upon the Earth the Divine influence thus distributed among them, in varying proportion and power, producing divers effects in the generation and corruption of material things, and in the dispositions and the lives of men.

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