Dante’s Divine Comedy follows his journey through the afterlife of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Among the many lessons Dante learns are the keys to happiness in this lifetime. Here are three of the lessons he learned from the residents of the afterlife.
Lesson One: Wake up
Dante begins his journey by waking from a deep sleep, lost in a dark wood. He has no idea of where he is, how he got there, and how to escape. Since Dante is halfway through his life at the time of the story, many commentators have compared his journey to a midlife crises. In order to progress to happiness and joy, Dante must first wake up and examine the person he has been and the way he has lived his life. Before moving forward Dante needs to acknowledge that he has lost his way.
Lesson Two: Be Other-Centered
One of the primary features distinguishing the residents of Hell from those of Heaven is that of self-centeredness. Two of Hell’s characters were caught in the act of adultery. Their eternal punishment is to be flying around, always together in a storm of other lustful souls. When questioned by Dante, they show no remorse, in fact they believe Dante is making a social call just to visit them. Inhabitants of Paradise realize the universe does not revolve around them. As Dante ultimately travels to Heaven, he sees other souls who have lived differently and begins to learn from them.
Lesson Three: Follow a Guide
In every region of the afterlife Dante has a guide. Initially it was the pagan poet, Virgil, guiding him through Inferno. Later his guide became Beatrice, a childhood love and spiritual mentor. Finally he was guided by the mystic Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who led Dante into the presence of God. Each guide was appropriate for the stage of the journey that Dante was in at the time.
These are just three of the lessons Dante learns from those in the afterlife. The journey ends with Dante seeing God. Although this is a story of the afterlife, it can ultimately be read as a manual for this life on earth.