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Dante And Chaucer And Their Analogy Of


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Dante And Chaucer And Their Analogy Of Evil Essay, Research Paper

We in the twentieth century would be much more hard-pressed

to define evil than would people of either Chaucer’s or Dante’s

time. Medieval Christians would have a source for it — Satan

and if could easily devise a series of ecclesiastical checklists

to test its presence and its power. In our secular world, evil

has come down to something that hurts people for no explicable

reason: the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the

burning of black churches in the South. We have taken evil out of

the hands of Satan, and placed it in the hands of man. In doing

so, we have made it less absolute, and in many ways less real.

Nonetheless, it must be recognized that in earlier times

evil was not only real but palpable. This paper will look at evil

as it is portrayed in two different works — Dante’s Divine

Comedy, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales — and analyze what the

nature of evil meant to each of these authors.

The Divine Comedy is an epic poem in which the author,

Dante, takes a visionary journey through Hell, Purgatory, and

Paradise. The purpose of Dante’s visit to Hell is to learn about

the true nature of evil. He is guided in this journey by the

ghost of the Roman classical poet Virgil, who, as wise in the

ways of the spirit as he may be, cannot go to Heaven because he

is not a Christian. Virgil’s experience in the underworld,

however, make him an authority on its structure, and he is more

than willing to share his knowledge with Dante in order that

Dante might return to life and share his revelations with others.

In Hell Dante is presented with insight into the nature of

evil, which, he is told, has to be seen and experienced to be

understood. At any rate, only after having looked the Devil in

the face and seen for himself the horror, the stupidity, and the

self-destructiveness of Hell, is Dante ready to move out of the

Inferno and back up toward the light of God’s love.

Dante conceived of Hell as a cone-shaped hole, terraced into

seven concentric “rings”. The uppermost level, Limbus, actually

is not a Hell at all, but merely an abode for good people born

into the culture of Christianity but who themselves had never

been baptized, as well as those born before the time of Christ.

Below Limbus, however, the rings of Hell yawn deeper and deeper,

and the torments grow more severe, ending at the bottom with a

frozen lake which is the abode of Satan himself. Each different

type of sin merits its own ring. The unfortunate inhabitants of

each ring and pouch and section of Hell receive a different type of sin merits its own ring

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