Imaginary travel through hell | Daily News

Imaginary travel through hell

The Divine Comedy is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri in 1320 AD. It is universally acclaimed as one of the great masterpieces in world literature. Written in the first person it discusses orthodox theology; afterlife and medieval world-view. The Divine Comedy is interwoven with a profound spirituality. The poem consists of three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. These parts are based on Dante's imaginary travel through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise -the three realms of the dead. But in deeper level, it represents, allegorically, the soul's journey towards God (Sayers, 1949).

The Divine Comedy is a form of synthesis of medieval life.Dante explains that the poem is a comedy because “the subject matter, at the beginning it is horrible and foul, as being Hell; but at the close it is happy, desirable, and pleasing, as being Paradise” and because the “style is unstudied and lowly (Lummus, 2011). Dante wrote this vernacular poem in his last years in exile. He provides spiritual meaning to major political events of his days.

Dante's Divine Comedy is a collision between absolute faith in the judgment of God and human reason. This work is filled with biblical stories, medieval theology of Thomas Aquinas, Greek and Roman classical myths, history, and Dante’s clashes with the political elites of Italy and his bitterness with some Vatican leaders. He presented major historical figures before his time, such as Noah, Moses, Judas Iscariot, St Peters, Plato, Homer, Prophet Muhammad, Thomas Aquinas, etc. In addition Dante used his knowledge in physics, astrology, cartography, mathematics, literary theory, history, and politics to craft this great work.

Dante was highly concerned with the political and intellectual issues of his time (Hainsworth & Robey, 2015). There are central themes such as sin, guilt, punishment, revenge, and salvation in Divine Comedy. Furthermore there is a medieval "psychoanalysis" component in his work. His poem transcends the medieval mind and becomes relevant to all ages and cultures (Chessick, 2001). Also it emulates the processes of psychotherapy in the medieval world.

According to Hatcher (1990) Dante's autobiographical journey of self-reflection and self-realization mirrors psychoanalysis. Dante's Comedy could be the precursors of psychoanalytic technique. Hatcher (1990) observed a resemblance between Dante's writing and the technique of interpretation in contemporary psychoanalysis. The Divine Comedy consists of hidden meanings and insight can be obtained through interpretations.

Dante's Divine Comedy has polysemous meanings. He discussed several elements of the science of his day (Caesar 1995). He embodied a new model of intellectual spread between the 13th and the 14th century (Riva et al., 2015). Therefore Divine Comedy is a spiritual and mata physical testimony.

Human language is full of symbols. Jung believed that as the mind explores the symbol, it is led to ideas that lie beyond the grasp of reason.The Renaissance also showed great interest in symbolism, although in a manner more individualistic and cultured, more profane, literary and aesthetic. Dante had fashioned his Commedia upon a basis of oriental symbols (Cirlot,J.E, 2001). Dante used inner Kabbalistic symbolism through his own story (Weor, 1996). Dante preferred to use bodily (anatomical) and medical metaphors in this part of his work and his works should be reconsidered by historians of medicine (Riva et al., 2015).

There are a number of archetypal representations in the poem. Divine Comedy provides a good example of the explorer archetype(Batey, 2012). Jung defined archetype as the first original model of which all other similar persons, objects, or concepts are merely derivative, copied, patterned, or emulated. Archetypes are visual symbols or energetic imprints that exist in psyche. Dante used planetary symbolism to represent the multi-level nature of the medieval universe.

The archetype of the hero's psycho-spiritual journey is well represented in Dante’s poem. The Divine Comedy itself is a form of archetype. As the poem begins the narrator is lost in the forest. Jungian symbolism regards forest as a symbol of the unconscious -metaphor for the unknown. As described by Jung the archetypal hero represents the psyche's quest for individuation. The archetypal hero travels through hell and heaven and finally meets the Creator. During his great journey the narrator is being transformed.

Boccassini (2014) highlighted analogies between Dante’s journey to the beyond and Jung’s process of individuation. According to Jungian psychology, individuation is the process of transforming one’s psyche by bringing the personal and collective unconscious into conscious. Individuation is a process of psychological differentiation. Individuation has a holistic healing effect on the person, both mentally and physically (Jung, 1962). Dante enters, in his journey through the spheres, the transmutative world of mandalas and gets acquainted with the prismatic complexity of their subtle meanings.

Dante added most of his overwhelming experiences and emotional anguish in his great work. The Commedia is in the first instance, an account of Dante’s own salvation. In midlife, he was beset by deep depression and doubt. He was a reasonably prosperous and highly esteemed Florentine citizen, ambitious and well aware of the unsurpassed gifts with which he had been blessed. And then, in a coup d’état engineered by his enemies, French forces with papal backing took over in Florence, and Dante found himself not only exiled—but condemned to death in absentia. If the Florentines caught him, he would be burned alive. At a stroke he lost everything—except for his fame, his ambition, and his talent. He had lost his way and, it may be, he lost his faith (Shutt, 2008). Dante suffered immensely under the political repression. He was the Medieval Solzhenitsyn.

Suffering is one of the major themes in the first part -Inferno in Divine Comedy. In the Inferno Dante writes: “Through me you go into a city of weeping; through me you go into eternal pain; through me you go amongst the lost people”

Dante meaningfully writes about human pain. He wrote: Themore a thing is perfect, the more if feels pleasure and pain. In Dante's Inferno a classification of pain is provided, based on the experience of sufferings. Noticeably, Dante created such a complex system centuries before the studies were released on the impact of pain and its quantitative and mostly qualitative definition. (Tonelli & Marcolongo, 2007). Dante may have known emotional and physical aspects of pain.

Dante’s poem begins with a strange encounter. Suddenly Dante finds himself lost in a dark wood and full of fear. He was confronted by three ferocious beasts -Wolf, Lion, and Leopard which symbolize Incontinence, Violence, and Fraud. Then the spirit of Virgil (the ancient Roman poet who wrote the epic poem, Aeneid) appears and takes Dante through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Virgil represents human reason and wisdom. 

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