have been finished before 1314 or 1315.
In a matter where certainty would be impossible, it is of little consequence to reproduce conjectural dates.
In the letter to Can Grande
, before alluded to, Dante
himself has stated the theme of his song.
He says that ‘the literal subject of the whole work is the state of the soul after death simply considered.
But if the work be taken allegorically, the subject is man, as by merit or demerit, through freedom of the will, he renders himself liable to the reward or punishment of justice.’
He tells us that the work is to be interpreted in a literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical sense, a mode then commonly employed with the Scriptures,1
and of which he gives the following example: ‘To make which mode of treatment more clear, it may be applied in the following verses: “In exitu Israel de Aegypto, domus Jacob de populo barbaro, fact est Judoea sanctificatio ejus, Israel potestas ejus.
Psalm CXIV. 1, 2.
For if we look only at the literal sense, it signifies the going out of the children of Israel from Egypt
in the time of Moses
; if at the allegorical, it signifies our redemption through Christ
; if at the moral, it signifies the conversion of the soul from the grief and misery of sin to a state of grace; and if at the anagogical, it signifies the passage of the blessed soul from the bondage of this corruption to the freedom of eternal glory.’
A Latin couplet, cited by one of the old commentators, puts the matter compactly together for us:—
Litera gesta refert; quid credas allegoria; Dante
Moralis quid agas; quid speres anagogia.
tells us that he calls his poem a comedy because it has a fortunate ending, and gives its title thus: ‘Here begins the comedy of Dante Alighieri, a Florentine ’