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Imaginary Journey in Dante's Divine Comedy
Dante's Divine Comedy is a moral comedy that is designed to make the readers think about their own morals. The poem could have been used almost as a guide for what and what not to do to get into Heaven for the medieval people. Dante takes the reader on a journey through the "afterlife" to imprint in the readers minds what could happen to them if they don't follow a Godlike life and to really make the reader think about where they will go when they die and where they would like to go when they die. In the Divine Comedy, Dante uses his imagination and his knowledge of the people's perception of the "afterlife" to create a somewhat realistic yet somewhat imaginary model of the afterlife.
In the first lines of the Divine Comedy, Dante says "In the middle of the journey of our life I came to my senses in a dark forest, for I had lost the straight path."(Dante 1416 lines 1-3) This is the typical stereotype of today for when a person becomes "lost" or consumed in sin. The sinful life is a dark life and a sinless life is a bright, white, and pure life. Dante's coming to his senses in a dark forest symbolizes his realizing how "lost" in sin he truly was and realizing that he needed to do something about it, meaning he needed to go through the seven sacraments so that he could become pure enough to see God in Paradise and not have to spend and eternity in Hell. Dante realized that he had strayed from the true faith without realizing it, not knowing exactly how it happened, and is trying to return. Losing the straight path symbolizes losing the holy, pure, or Godlike life. Darkness is more or less a symbol of evil and light or brightness a symbol for good.
Throughout the poem, Dante is advocating that man must consciously aim for righteousness and morality. People can often become so involved with day-to-day living that they will fall into a life consumed with sin. Man must always be aware of his need to perform righteously. The dark forest symbolizes a human life where every waking moment is not consciously devoted to morals and righteousness.
The Inferno is probably the most realistic section of the Divine Comedy because it comes closer to fitting the people's perception of what Hell is really like then than Purgatory and Paradise do.
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Purgatory is a place that not many protestants know about or think about so it is not as familiar to people as Heaven and Hell are. All our lives people are taught that if you sin you will go to Hell and if you don't sin you will go to Heaven; there has never been any in between. Purgatory is a place for people whom either repented shortly before they died or have not yet completed the process of repentance or all of the seven sacraments. Unlike Hell where it is eternal, people in Purgatory will eventually complete their penance and make it to Paradise the Kingdom of God. If you are in Purgatory you are on your way to Paradise or Heaven but you still need some cleansing but you will eventually make it into Paradise. Purgatory is not eternal. Purgatory is not probation or a punishment; the people there are glad to be there because they know that someday they will be at God's side in Paradise. Purgatory is a place of discipline. This is one of the more imaginary elements of the Divine Comedy because we do not know much about it, although we really do not know much about Heaven or Hell either except for what we read about in the Bible and there really are not many references to Purgatory in the Bible.
Dante depicts Paradise as a very Holy and beautiful place which is how people perceive it, but it is still different in many ways. Paradise is a place of reward for people whom consciously chose a righteous way of life. To enter Paradise a person must be washed pure and white as snow. To be saved is not enough to get into Paradise; you must either live a fully righteous and Godlike life, or you must be repentant for all sins. In order to repent you must go through the seven sacraments of baptism, confirmation, matrimony, extreme unction, Eucharist, ordination, and penance step- by-step. Dante depicted Paradise as a White Rose or Mystic Rose in which God was at the center and saints surrounded Him. This is a good picture in that a white rose symbolizes purity, perfection and divine love which are all characteristics of God, so it is fitting that God place is throne in the center of a white rose. The white rose is a fitting word picture for God, but is just different from what people would imagine as the home or throne of God.
The Divine Comedy was a somewhat realistic yet somewhat imaginary story that entertained millions and was used as a guide for the medieval people. You could say that Dante has one of the biggest most active imaginations ever to have been able to create a story like the Divine Comedy. The entire story was a figment of his imagination because there has not been any person that has died and traveled to Hell, Purgatory, or Paradise and come back to tell the world about it. Many portions of it would be the same as some people's pictures of it but many portions are different. It would be a great challenge to go back and try to write your own picture of the afterlife.