|(Bib. Trivulziana MS 1080. First page.)|
|(Domenico di Michelino, Dante holding the Divine Comedy, 1465)|
|Sandro Botticelli, Inferno, Canto XXXIV (detail), 1480s, silverpoint on parchment, completed in pen and ink (Staatliche Museen, Berlin|
In addition to its influence, one of the elements of the Divine Comedy that has always interested me is the social commentary that Dante’s journey provides on how certain historical figures were perceived by Dante and as a possible extent by medieval European society. Being personally inclined towards Roman history, the use of Classical figures in the Divine Comedy has always drawn my attention, the appearance of Julius Caesar in Limbo in particular. Through each successive level of Hell that Dante passes way through he comes across dozens of notable historical figures. There are popes, mythical heroes, kings, generals, and queens littered throughout Hell’s landscape, all having committed some sin for them to have earned their place in their respective levels of Hell. Caesar, however, a pagan, known adulterer, and all around proud and vain individual is merely allocated a lesser form of Heaven because he had not been baptized and held belief in God. Additionally, men who assassinated him are given the prominent place beside Judas Iscariot inside the mouths of Satan. What does this say about Dante’s, and possibly medieval society’s, opinion of Julius Caesar? Through his narrative, Dante has placed Caesar as a being whose betrayal and death was near equivalent to that of Christ and Caesar, despite being a pagan, is simply subjected to a depreciated version of heaven. And being that Caesar had been noted for his more modest lifestyle, as he hardly drank and is even recorded as having consumed stale bread or crackers for dinner without complaint while the other guests turned their noses up to such a meager appetizer, I doubt he would have been complaining very much. Does “Divine” Julius still hold the same sway to medieval society that he did while he was still alive and is it possible that even Christian European society believed that Caesar was cut from a different cloth than the remainder of humanity? What if Caesar had been a Christian? Where might Dante have placed such a prominent Classical figure in his narrative had he been baptized and been of the Christian faith? Or is it simply coincidence that Dante has placed allusions to Caesar and he merely needed a prominent historical figure to tie together the narrative of his poem? These, and other inquires like them, are just some of the of the elements that one is able to pull out of this text. It truly speaks to the longevity of the Divine Comedy that, nearly seven centuries after its creation, Dante’s epic still manages to permeate modern society in multiple forms.