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The Divine Comedy. The World Structure and The Role of Virgil - Essay Example

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In the poetry of Middle Ages, Dante is an incomparable case of almost discipular attitude towards his Classic predecessor, Virgil (Curtius 358)…
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The Divine Comedy. The World Structure and The Role of Virgil
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Download file to see previous pages Thus, there are at least 3 dimensions of Dante’s relationship with Ancient Greek and Roman culture: the poetical one, that is, the influence of the language and symbolism of the previous ages; the difference in world order in Dante’s and classic thinkers’ visions; and the most specific one, Dante’s relationship with Virgil as outlined in the Divine Comedy. This essay addresses all 3 of them. Poetical Aspect Many Dante scholars agree that the most important cultural trait of Classical poetry in the Divine Comedy is its style, that is, its verse, rhetorical topoi, strictness of composition, and the characteristics of genre (Curtius 353-358). Virgil, as well as other figures of ancient writers/rhapsodes such as Lucan and Homer, was the one of the “regulated poets” whose writing had an imprint of elaborate poetical systems (Curtius 354). Dante wanted his verse and his vision of afterlife to be systematic and logical. Dante’s structured of Inferno is even more elaborate than Virgil’s: in the Aeneid (VI), Aeneus travels through only three sectors of Hell, not shaped as circles and surrounded by different basins rather than parts of one system (Virgil). Still, the overall structure is the same: it is a descriptive journey with a powerful guide (Sybil in Aeneus’s case) beginning in the dark wood and ending on the light mountain top: “And takes a rising ground, from thence to see / The long procession of his progeny” (Aeneid VI.1024). As for merely linguistic influences, Curtius finds numerous Latinisms in the Divine Comedy , such as his use of the river (‘Fuime’) image used to demonstrate the eloquence of Dante’s speech as related to Virgil’s (Curtius 356). Most of these Latinisms are Medieval, not related to Renaissance poetics (Curtius 354). They indicate that Dante perceived Virgil’s worldview mainly through medieval lens. Thus, his ideas of human nature and the structure of the world are different from Virgil’s and much closer to Christianity. The World Structure The meaning of Hell is strikingly different in the Divine Comedy and the Classic culture. Dante’s Hell and Purgatory are designed for sinners, being something like a disciplinary place for corrupted souls; thus, it has a strict hierarchy, and every punishment is logically connected with the crime, like the Diviners in Canto XX who are forced to walk with their heads turned back. The punishments are arranged according to the severity of crime, descending into the depth and ending with the frozen circle, like in other medieval literary descriptions of Hell (Turner 87). As the main function of Hell is punishment, the characters are described vividly, in the flesh, and usually with some moral assessment: Those spirits, faint and naked, color chang'd, And gnash'd their teeth, soon as the cruel words They heard.  God and their parents they blasphem'd, The human kind, the place, the time, and seed That did engender them and give them birth (Divine Comedy III.94-98) This is the description of the souls (disembodied!) about to be transported by Charon. In Virgil’s version, it is Charon who provokes disgust; the souls of the dead are described in a neutral if not compassionate way: An airy crowd came rushing where he stood, Which fill'd the margin of the fatal flood: Husbands and wives, boys and unmarried maids, And mighty heroes' more majestic shades, And youths, intomb'd before their fathers' eyes, With hollow groans, and shrieks, and feeble cries (Aeneid VI.422-427). Virgil’s vision of the afterlife, like that of many other Ancient Greeks and Romans, is morally neutral: it’s a fate, an important category of Ancient worldview. Like Ovid, Virgil believed that death is a ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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