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Dante was a genius, having being said at the cost of sounding trite. He was also the master who wrote the masterpiece appropriately called La Comedia which, most clearly of all his works demonstrates his genius profoundly. Dante lived in Florence, Italy in the late 13th and early 14th century. This was at a time when Florence was in political turmoil. Dante, however, was not a commoner. In fact, Dante's party, who were called the Guelfs, took control of Florence during Dante's time in 1266 (Fergusson, Francis, 26). Sadly, however, Dante was banished from Italy at the turn of the century, which was around the time of the writing of La Comedia, which included three books: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. When Dante died, however, he was very highly praised for his cantos and their "beautiful, polished, and ornate style."(Boccaccio, Giovanni and Lionardo Broni Arentino, 4). After his death, he obtained many names from great people like Chaucer, who called him "the grete poete of Ytaille" (6), and from artists like Michelangelo saying many things like "It is impossible to say how much we owe to him, be cause his splendor blinds ." (6) The Inferno is not only a story about the wretched torments of hell, but it also has rhyme, and the numbers encoded in rhyme have theological significance (e.g. the number three is symbolic of the holy trinity). Dante Alighieri expresses these numbers in his construction of rhyme, lines, stanzas, and La Comedia to express his love of and the glory of GOD.
Dante was greatly influenced in his choice of numbers by theology, Aristotle, and by the legendary Virgil. Virgil is used theologically by Dante because in the middle ages he was known widely as the "great pre-Christian poet". Virgil used the number 333 because it was the amount of time separating Aenas' time in Italy and the birth of Rome. Virgil also wrote about hell with Aenas, who starts out in a forest, very much like the forest where Dante starts out also (Chateaubriand, Viscount de, 7). To Dante, Aristotle was The Philosopher. Since Aristotle used numbers in symbolism, Dante used this tactic also. Dante also used Aristotle's philosophy of harmony. The harmony theory stated that everything in the universe tends towards its point of perfect existence. Dante, who saw that Virgil had used numbers, decided to also use numbers in La Commedia. To express symbolic numbers, he uses rhyme, stanza construction and the instruction of the epic poem itself (which ties in directly to the construction of La Comedia).
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The sort of rhyme Dante utilizes is known as "Terza Rima", which means "Triple Rhyme". To demonstrate Terza Rima, a series of abstract examples will be used. The fist line will end in a syllable, which will be referred to as "A". The next line ends with a different syllable sound, which from this point on will be referred to as "B". The first stanza consists of three lines, the first ending in "A", the second ending in "B", and the third ending in "A" again. The next stanza's first line ends with the syllable "B", the second line a syllable which shall be referred to as "C", and the third line ends in the syllable "B". The pattern continues on as shown:
ABA BCB CDC DED EFE FGF GHG HIH IJI JKJ KLK LML MNM etc.
The rhyming is consistently used in this monotonous but beautiful tome (Chateaubriand, Viscount de, 6). The significance of the number three, as was stated in a previous paragraph, is that of the holy trinity, namely the Holy Father, the Holy Son, and the Holy Spirit.
To understand Dante Alighieri's method of constructing the stanzas, one must first understand his philosophy of divine numbers. He took the Trinitarian number (3), "doubled" it (33, which was a holy number, but not a perfect one), multiplied it by the trinity (99), and this was the holiest number next to that number plus the number of divine personae (1), which is 100, and to Dante represented God. To accomplish this, Dante constructed his stanzas with a Trinitarian number of lines. For poetic style, the great Italian poet used "Terza Rima". After this, Dante included some mathematical significance. He took a holy number (33), divided it by the number of lines in a stanza, and he came out with the number 11. Throughout the poem, Dante uses exactly 11 syllables in every line. Here is an example from Inferno 3:1-3
«Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l'etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.
Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore;
fecemi la divina podestate,
la somma sapïenza e 'l primo amore.
Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate'.
("Through me the way is to the city dolent;
Through me the way is to eternal dole;
Through me the way among the people lost.
Justice incited my sublime Creator;
Created me divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.
Before me there were no created things,
Only eterne, and I eternal last.
All hope abandon, ye who enter in!")
(Alighieri, Dante) One can see that Dante's use of Terza rima, in that the words "Dolente" and "Gente" rhyme, and that "Dolore", "Fattore" and "Amore" also rhyme. The syllables are also very consistent: (1) Per (2)mi (3)se (4)va (5)ne (6)la (7)cit (8)tá (9)do (10)len (11)te. Dante uses this painstaking method or rhyme throughout the entire Commedia. The ryme never changes, and is almost of a monotonous cadence and tone (Chateaubriand, Viscount de, 6).
Dante does not limit his artistic style of word manipulation to such pettiness as lines and stanzas, but he uses it in the construction of the Inferno itself. In the Inferno, there are 34 cantos which gruesomely describe the horrors of the nine circles of hell: limbo, the carnal and lustful, the gluttons, the hoarders and wasters, the wrathful and slothful, the heretics, the violent, the liars, and the traitors. The nine circles are symbolic of the fact that it is God's justice. The first trinity represents God, whereas
the second one represents divine justice. When multiplied together, these two yield the number nine. Purgatorio and Paradiso, however, contain 33 cantos.
The reason why Dante uses 34 cantos in the Inferno, and only 33 in Purgatorio and Paradiso is because it adds up to the Divine Number. If one adds 34 to 33, one will arrive at the number 67. Then when one adds another 33 to that, one will arrive at 100, which was, as said before the divine number (trinity "doubled", times the trinity plus the one true god). Another fact that cannot be overlooked is that the first canto of the Inferno is on earth, and acts as an introductory canto. Without this canto, the Comedia would not be complete. This demonstrates that Dante considers the universe incomplete without the earth. This ties in to Aristotle's philosophy that everything in the universe tends towards its perfect state of harmony. Without the earth, the harmony would be disrupted. The universe cannot exist without the earth, and the earth cannot exist without the universe.
Dante uses three literary techniques in his Comedia, but consists mostly on number significance. He uses rhyme in conjunction with the construction of lines, stanzas, and the Comedia itself. The number of syllables is very important too. This phenomenal poem that was written with irrefutable genius was done for the love of GOD. Dante was a great Christian poet and "his equal never lived at all."(Michelangelo, 6)
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