Guide to the Classics: Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’

Updated: Oct 8, 2018

“The Last Judgment” by Michelangelo, in the Sistine Chapel, was inspired by Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” depicting the three realms of the afterlife: hell, purgatory, and heaven. (Public Domain)

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!

So warns the inscription on the gates of the inferno, the first realm of Dante Alighieri’s celebrated work, now known as the “Divine Comedy.” “La Commedia,” as Dante originally named it, is an imaginary journey through the three realms of the afterlife: inferno (hell), purgatorio (purgatory), and paradiso (heaven).

It might not sound all that funny, but Dante called his epic poem a comedy because, unlike tragedies that begin on a high note and end tragically, comedies begin badly but end well. The poem indeed ends well, with the protagonist, also named Dante, reaching his desired destination—heaven—a place of beauty and calm, light, and ultimate good. Conversely, the inferno is dark, morose, and inhabited by irredeemable sinners.