Concerning the Theological Allegory

2024-06-17 @Literature

The allegorical property fascinates all the more since my most recent trek through Dante’s Paradiso.

The traditional, poets allegory makes all but explicit the strictly symbolic/allusive nature to the events depicted. An allegory can even render at multiple levels in the case of something like the Spenser’s Faerie Queene.

(Optionally, see Hollander’s, detailed write-up on the subject.)

Now the following blew my mind. Dante classified the entire poem a theological allegory [Hollander]. This type of elevated allegory demands a factual interpretation to the narrative, in addition to the symbolic, transcending the above bounds.

For the record, the Bible, Torah and the Quran, each to varying degree, are to be taken as theological allegories in their wider intent. Dante elevates his work to not quiet those ranks, but audaciously high considering the contents.

Dante claims his trek through the three realms, depicted in the numerically harmonious terza rima, to have actually occurred. His mission to ultimately document and share his experience with men so as to enable them to effectively better themselves (a mission imparted not until Paradiso), makes then the retroactive catalyst for the poem development.

Granted, the Comedy delivers an astounding ethnographic study of theology, politics and socio-economics. Like scripture, it employs inexhaustible poetic device, endless and extensive similes and metaphors, dialogues, sermons and even scientific disciplines (by far from common use in poesy). Pagan elements too have a place in at least the infernal portion of the cosmogony.

Dante’s elevation to a prophet-like figure was unlikely to please the liturgical offices. Now Dante wrote most of the Commedia once already in exile, the work published posthumously. But whatever the earnestness, irony, satire or artifice, the claim to consider his work historical in the war zone of factions and Papal influence (and the early forms of Inquisition) causes me to ponder.

If Dante’s claim on the poem genre is fictitious, where need we draft the frontier? Proceeding from there, might not everything qualify: the narrative, footnotes, names, dates, preface, dedication, references, bibliography, publisher, cover text, critique, editor’s notes, quotes, down to the very ISBN?

Questions, comments? Connect.