Numbers and the Divine Comedy


    Dante's masterwork is an insanely detailed creation that took him years to compose. However, one may overlook at first is just how intricately Dante planned every detail of the Divine Comedy. This is most clearly expressed in his use of numerical symbolism throughout. Three, the number of the Holy Trinity, is everywhere in the work. For example, there are nine circles of hell (3 times 3) and nine levels of paradise. Dante's Satan is a three-headed monster. There are 33 cantos in each of the books of the Comedy. Perhaps most impressive, the entire work is written in terza rima, a form of poetry in which there is a set of three lines, the first and last of which rhyme and the middle line of which rhymes with the first and last of the next stanza, and so forth. The fact that Dante was so invested in promoting this numerical symbolism in his work that he went so far as to make every line he wrote a part of it speaks to the importance of it in the true meaning of the Comedy.
    Dante also frequently calls on the number 10, which was seen as a number of purity in the Middle Ages. A further investigation of numerical symbology in the Divine Comedy would no doubt reveal more examples of its presence and the meaning behind the use of it in the famous poem.


"O, what a marvel it appeared to me,
  When I beheld three faces on his head!
  The one in front, and that vermilion was;
Two were the others, that were joined with this
  Above the middle part of either shoulder,
  And they were joined together at the crest;
And the right-hand one seemed 'twixt white and yellow;
  The left was such to look upon as those
Who come from where the Nile falls valley-ward." ~Inferno, Canto XXXIV


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