The Allegory of the Cave and Dante

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The Allegory of the Cave and Dante

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.” This maxim applies to the poet Dante Alighieri, writer of The Inferno in the 1300s, because it asserts the need to establish oneself as a contributor to society. Indeed, Dante’s work contributes much to Renaissance Italy as his work is the first of its scope and size to be written in the vernacular. Due to its readability and availability, The Inferno is a nationalistic symbol. With this widespread availability also comes a certain social responsibility; even though Dante’s audience would have been familiar with the religious dogma, he assumes the didactic role of illustrating his own version of Christian justice and emphasizes the need for a personal understanding of divine wisdom and contrapasso, the idea of the perfect punishment for the crime. Dante acts as both author and narrator, completing a physical and spiritual journey into the underworld with Virgil as his guide and mentor. The journey from darkness into light is an allegory full of symbolism, much like that of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which shows a philosopher’s journey towards truth. Therefore, Dante would also agree with the maxim, “Wise men learn by others’ harms; fools scarcely by their own,” because on the road to gaining knowledge and spiritual enlightenment, characters who learn valuable lessons from the misfortunes of others strengthen their own paradigms. Nonetheless, the only true way to gain knowledge is to experience it first hand. Dante’s character finds truth by way of his own personal quest.

Dante’s poetry is rich in symbolism of light and darkness. At the beginn...

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...ards monstrous figures and sympathy towards those who seem to be tortured unjustly. In his perverse education, with instruction from Virgil and the shades, Dante learns to replace mercy with brutality, because sympathy in Hell condones sin and denies divine justice. The ancient philosopher Plato, present in the first level of Hell, argues in The Allegory of the Cave that truth is possible via knowledge of the Form of the Good. Similarly, Dante acquires truth through a gradual understanding of contrapasso and the recognition of divine justice in the afterlife. Ultimately, Dante recognizes that the actions of the earthly fresh are important because the soul lives on afterwards to face the ramifications. By expressing his ideas on morality and righteousness, Dante writes a work worth reading, immortalizes his name, and exalts the beliefs of his Christian audience.
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