Hyperian History Of The World (14th Century, Part 2)
At the start of the 14th Century, with the might of the Catholic church at its full strength having exterminated the Cathars and brought down the Knights Templar, it may seem as though the Dark Ages had become darker than ever. Yet the resurgence of Gnostic resistance was the prelude to the great rebirth of human brilliance, creativity and philosophy known as the Renaissance. But before that great age began proper, a single great work of human creativity appeared in the world showing beyond doubt that all was not lost. Ancient Greece had given to the world the great poems of Homer and Rome had bestowed upon us Virgil and Ovid, yet after the end of antiquity it seemed as though such literary brilliance would never again grace the world. Until, that is, a new artistic genius appeared in the world, in Italy, the great poet Dante Alighieri, who wrote one of the most magnificent literary creations the world has ever seen, his Divine Comedy.
Catholic philosophy had reached its zenith at the end of the previous century in the work of Thomas Aquinas, and that philosophy/theology was a major influence on Dante, who was a Catholic, yet Dante did something far greater. He created an artistic creation of great imagination which nonetheless remained a work which presented all the knowledge of the world which was available at the time. Like Aquinas, Dante was influenced by Greek philosophy as much as by Catholic theology, and his poem contains references to and characters from both biblical sources and classical mythology. Dante presents the entire cosmology of the universe as it was known at the time. He journeys through the universe as it was understood to be in that age, describing it all in wondrous detail and yet also presenting a spiritual undertaking, a sacred quest from the depths of ignorance and despair to the heights of knowledge and transcendence.
Dante’s description of the universe is ostensibly in complete accordance with catholic dogma, yet it contains so many references to the pre-christian mythology of antiquity that it becomes difficult to see the Divine Comedy as a purely christian work. Dante seems to straddle the border between christianity and classical paganism, between the submission of catholicism and the heretical yearning for knowledge of gnosticism. The comedy is also a perfect union of mythos and logos, as it presents the cosmology and philosophy of the time but told through poetry, rich in symbolism and beauty.
Never before had an artist so wonderfully presented all of the knowledge of their time in a single work of creative majesty. Dante describes the cosmological view of the universe as it was known in his time. He begins his journey by delving deep into the earth under which is located Hell itself. Dante descends lower and lower through the circles of Hell until he reaches Satan himself in the deepest pit at the very centre of the world. Following this, Dante comes through to Mount Purgatory, which rises up away from Hell but on the southern Hemisphere of the earth. At the summit of this mountain is located the Garden of Eden and after this, Dante begins his journey upwards through the crystal spheres of the heavens getting closer and closer to the divine until he reaches the very top, the highest level, the Empyrean where Dante engages in the Beatific vision, the union with the Divine itself.
The poem is split into three major sections, Inferno (Hell), Purgatory and Paradise. Each of these three realms is further divided into nine circles, with a final level each time bringing the total to ten, these final levels being, firstly, the realm of Satan in Hell, secondly, Eden at the peak of Purgatory and finally the Empyrean at the highest level of Paradise. This almost mathematical structure is further reflected in the structure of the poem, with each of the three sections divided into thirty-three Cantos, with the first section, Inferno, also having an introductory Canto bringing the total to one hundred. The poem is therefore a masterpiece of both form and content, perfectly balanced.
Although ostensibly a Christian work, the Divine Comedy can nonetheless be interpreted in an almost gnostic way which is very relevant to Hyperianism. Dante begins his journey in Hell, which is significant. Dante seems to reject the conventional christian idea of a soul being sent either to heaven or hell after death depending on its behaviour whilst on earth. Instead, Dante realises that one can only reach the divine by first traversing through hell and purgatory. This is in accordance with the gnostic idea that hell is where we are now, upon this physical earth and that only by struggling through that realm can we escape it and reach heaven.
Dante’s poem, notable for being written in Dante’s vernacular language of Italian rather than the conventional Latin which was the literary language of the time, represents, in a way, an individual managing to transcend the suppressive nature of the dogmatic Catholic Church. Although Dante does not contradict catholic theology, he nonetheless manages to create a description of reality which rises higher and is far more complete than anything attempted by any ‘official’ sources, whether the work of catholic philosophers such as Aquinas or even the bible itself. Dante manages to rise higher than that, reaching a higher level of transcendence and injecting into the work his own ideas in such a way as to it almost being taken as a new dogma for a new version of his religion, one he has devised for himself.
As such, Dante’s work represents a major breaking away from the iron grasp of repressive religion. By creating a work which presents such a wondrous and complete account of reality embellished by the highest level of literary quality, Dante has taken religion away from the oppressive church and given it back to the individual. Of course the true philosophy of reality is absolutely objective and universal, yet Dante shows us how we can creatively interpret it in our own individual way, thereby liberating us from the oppression of earthly structures which seek to keep us down.
We are all suffering here in hell and we must descend down into its darkest depths if we are to emerge through onto the other side and begin the trials of purgatory which lead onwards and upwards towards paradise and the divine itself. The poem ends, “But now my will and my desire, like wheels revolving with an even motion, were turning with the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars.”
As we say, Ad Astra, to the stars.