I wrote a piece on Dante Aligheri and Giovanni Boccaccio, and their revolutionary works. The many literary worlds that the poet Dante Aligheri created were rich with imagery, symbolism, and paradoxes. Within these worlds, Dante Aligheri the pilgrim remained a steadfast traveler, with his sights always set on the light and truth of God. Dante’s readers gained spiritual sustenance by accompanying Dante the pilgrim on his journey and by listening to the wisdom and artistry of Dante the poet. At the heart of all of Dante’s writing is the incessant push-and-pull of the forces of reason and faith: the battle between Dante’s philosophical leanings and his unwavering belief in God and in salvation through ultimate faith. This line between logic and unquestioning religious conviction is often blurred, and throughout the literary journey of the Commedia the reader learns that there is no simple answer to the issue of salvation. In the Inferno, the punished only possess reason and not faith. In Purgatorio, the penitents have the capacity for both reason and faith, but they did not correctly or perfectly apply their reason towards their faith. In Paradiso, the inhabitants have reached a perfect sense of theology—a union of reason and faith that has lead to their salvation. Therefore, Dante’s purpose as a mortal voyager is to show that salvation is only a result of the product of reason and faith in the correct relationship to each other.
Although Giovanni Boccaccio was born over fifty years after Dante Aligheri’s death, Dante was a major influence on Boccaccio’s works. Boccaccio’s opus, the Decameron, was a series of tales that were parodies of many famous works (including Dante’s). In the Eighth Tale of the Second Day of the Decameron, Boccaccio tells the story of a corrupt and immoral abbot who wants to take advantage of a wife of a member of his congregation. It is in this tale that Boccaccio makes a tongue-in-cheek comment on Dante, both on his Rime and on the Commedia. When the abbot tries to convince the woman to engage in sexual relations with him, he entreats her by asking her “can you do that which will be the good and salvation of my life.” In Dante’s Rime 61, he refers to Lady Philosophy by explaining the fact that “her aspect helps to induce belief…our faith is strengthened” (Rime 61). Boccaccio is making a comparison to the divine qualities of Lady Philosophy’s beauty by having the abbot employ a similar argument—but in the case of the Eighth Tale, the end result is to commit adultery and sin, not to achieve true salvation. The abbot continues his plea, and uses logic in order to cajole the wife when she questions his motives: “sanctity nowise abates by this, seeing it has its seat in the soul and that which I ask of you is a sin of the body.” The abbot is using strictly logical discourse, explaining to the woman that there is no issue with intercourse because it is strictly a corporeal issue. As with Dante and St. Peter in Paradiso, the abbot “talks a good game.” But unlike Dante, the abbot does not have a true understanding of faith, and instead uses his logic to immoral and sinful ends.
The quest for salvation has always been an uneasy task for man to undertake. Dante’s particular road, as both poet and pilgrim, was fraught with peril and many different challenges. As a pilgrim, Dante had to maneuver the waters of the Commedia, avoid the pitfalls of the Inferno, and have his faith and heart tested in the Paradiso. As a poet, Dante had the daunting charge of communicating his often-indescribable journey to his readers—with their salvation weighing in his hands. In the end, Dante was able to successfully convey the conclusion of his experiences: philosophical reasoning, in combination with faith in God, will lead one to salvation. Anything outside of perfect theology, be it an excess of logistical and practical thinking, or an approach to faith too late in life, will not set the reader on the one true or correct path.