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was an age when the conduct of public affairs was
s! but too often a question of life and death to those who engaged in them; and defeat meant, as in Dante's own case, exile, confiscation, ruin.
We have but scant data for determining when or where the Divina Commedia was written. We know the era of the poem from the author's own statement in Canto twenty-one, where he makes the Fiend, Malacoda, say to Virgil,
Yesterday, later by five hours than now,
This passage fixes the era of Dante's descent, at Good Friday in the year 1300 and at the thirtyfifth
year of the Poet's age; but it does not help us in fixing the exact years spent by the Poet in the composition of his immortal work. From internal evidence, however, it is certain that Dante did not enter seriously upon the composition of his great Allegory until after his banishment; and, perhaps, not until all hope of ever regaining his full status as a citizen of Florence, had passed for ever from his mind.
Similarly, Milton was not only a born student, and a born poet, but, like Dante, he was deeply inter
ested in all the public questions of his day. He was an ardent admirer of Cromwell; became his Latin Secretary; and was in sympathy with all that the name of Cromwell implies. But he was not on the winning side in politics, and with the death of Cromwell, the ex-Secretary of the Commonwealth was buried in as deep a political oblivion, as was Dante, after the issue of the edict of his banishment from Florence.
But more than this. Although the first drafts of the scheme of a possible poem on the subject of Paradise Lost, were written out by Milton as early as between the years 1639 and 1642, or between his thirty-first and thirty-fourth years, yet it is more than probable, that Milton, like Dante, did not begin, in earnest, to turn his attention to the realisation of his life-dream-the writting of his sacred epic-until
after his forced retirement from public life. The į year when Milton began Paradise Lost [1658), was the year of Cromwell's death.
Dante's conception of the divisions of infinite space is somewhat different from that of either Cædmon or Milton. It will be remembered, that both of the latter poets, depict infinite space as a tripartite kingdom, consisting of the Empyrean, Chaos, and Hell; and subsequently, introduce a fourth
kingdom, comprising the Starry Universe,
ith the Earth at its centre as a fixed immovable
in the Divina Commedia, the Empyrean and te space are interchangeable terms for one and ne idea ; and, if we may be allowed to venture
kpression of the unthinkable, Dante's Empyin may be imagined as a sphere of infinite radius, just as Infinite space is represented by both Cædmon and Milton. Hanging at the centre of this infinite globe, is the Starry Universe, surrounded on all sides by the Empyrean.
This Starry Universe of the Allegory, is a reproduction of the Ptolemaic or rather the Alphonsine system of Moon and Planets revolving, each in its own concentric Sphere, around the Earth as a fixed immovable centre; the same astronomical system that Milton adopted in his epic three hundred and fifty years later, though with different intent.
THE STARRY UNIVERSE
ACCORDING TO THE ALPHONSINE SYSTEM
SPHERE OF THE MOON
There is no Chaos in Dante's scheme of Infinite space, as in Cadmon's and Milton's; no "concave
of Hell,” below the Starry Universe, in some deepseated region. Dante, following classical models, places his Inferno or Hell within the crust of the Earth. It is an immense hollow cone, with a base or opening on the circumference or surface of the Earth, four thousand miles in breadth; and with its apex at the centre of the globe, four thousand miles deep.
Such is Dante's conception of the divisions of Universal Space ; and on this conception, as a basis, is erected the whole fabric of the Divina Commedia.
We shall now see the exquisite skill with which the poet has made use of this framework in the construction and elaboration of the three kingdoms of his Allegory,—Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso,which, (to quote the words of Carlyle), “look out on one another like compartments of a great edifice, a great supernatural world-cathedral, piled up stern, solemn, awful.” *
i Vide Note K.