The Commedia is Dante's best-known work. It is a narrative poem, written in Italian, about human nature and the nature of man's relationship to God. It was written for the purposes of moral edification; its composition may be seen as a response to what Dante considered to be the moral degeneration of the society of his day, and as a response to what Dante considered to be some of his own moral shortcomings. At the same time, it also reflects on the reflects on the ways in which poetry ought to function, and on some of the major intellectual and political questions of Dante's day.
The Commedia is a first-person narrative, and tells the story of Dante's journey through the realms of the afterlife. It begins with Dante finding himself lost in a dark wood, and ends with his vision of, and union with, God. In between, Dante journeys through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. His guide through Hell and Purgatory is the Latin poet Virgil. At the top of the mountain of Purgatory, Dante is left by Virgil and meets Beatrice, who guides him all the way through Paradise. She leaves him just before the vision of God, to which Dante is led by St Bernard of Clairvaux. The fictional date for the start of Dante's journey is Good Friday, 1300.
The work is divided into three parts, or cantiche: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Little is known about when Dante wrote the different parts of the Commedia, and the chronology i. The Inferno was probably written between 1307 and 1309; the Purgatorio between 1310 and 1313; and the Paradiso between 1313 and 1321. It is also likely that copies of the Inferno and the Purgatorio were circulating before the Commedia as a whole was completed. The Commedia is made up of 100 cantos, thirty-four in the inferno and thirty-three in each of the other two cantiche.
As you will be aware, the Commedia is very often referred to as the Divina Commedia. The adjective 'divina', however, was added by editors in the sixteenth century. We simply refer to the work as the Commedia.
© Vittorio Montemaggi, Matthew Treherne, Abi Rowson