In his Divne Comedy Dante pictured the Inferno as being formed by Satan and his angels plunging into the earth.

Saturday, 10/1/11

In the Gospel Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from the sky.” Let me speak about something a great poet made of that statement. You have heard of Dante’s Inferno, but do you know where Dante imagined that hell to be?  It has something to do with Satan falling like lightening from heaven. Dante imagined that plummet of Satan and his angels gouging a deep pit in an unexplored land in the Southern Hemisphere. Let me say something about Dante’s great poem.

Back in the twelve hundreds, he was one of three young poets of Florence who developed their own brand of poetry. Calling it the Dolce Stil Novo or the “Sweet New Style,” each of them wrote his verses to honor some unattainable fair lady.  Dante’s muse was Beatrice Portinari, a lady who died young after his having spied her only several times. In his Divine Comedy Dante pictured Beatrice calling the long-dead Roman poet Virgil up from Limbo. She felt that Dante has lost his way in life, and she hoped he could be awakened if Virgil would lead him through hell and purgatory up to heaven’s gate.

In the first third of the poem, the Inferno, Virgil and Dante are like spelunkers winding down into the cave of hell. At each level they view the torments awaiting those who commit different kinds of grave sins. The third of Dante’s epic given over to the Inferno is the part people mention most, but I found Dante’s Purgatorio and Paradiso more rewarding reading.

With most of us, our belief in the afterlife is such a shaky thing that we don’t try to imagine what it could be like. But you would be filled with admiration if you scanned Dante’s picture of life after death. Even though he made great use of what the Scriptures tell us, we need to keep reminding ourselves that his poem is not to be taken as part of the Bible. Still, reading it will help your faith.

I began this by saying that he pictured his inferno as being a deep pit made by the lightening-like plunge of Satan and his angels. Dante had an equally unexpected way of explaining how Purgatory could have come about. He pictured it as an island in the south seas that was piled up from soil left on the side from the forming of the pit of the Inferno. His way of picturing what happens at the death of souls who are saved is to have them picked up by the operator of a ferryboat, withpout giving them an explanation the ferryman drops them on Purgatory’s shore.

The crowd that he had left along the beach seemed not to know the place; they looked about like those whose eyes try out things new to them.

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