It is Good Friday in the year 1300. Thrust into the bedlam and chaos that is The Dark Wood, our humble hero, Dante, is distraught for he suspects this bleak, black forest is a portal to the Underworld; a terrifying, apocalyptic realm wherein echo the chilling screams of eternal suffering, where all are dead when he is alive, a place which, he fears, does not lead to salvation. Dante is presented with a gift from Heaven, the Roman poet Virgil, he who is wisdom and reason personified, sent to guide him through the three realms of the afterlife where no living soul has ever journeyed, for unbeknown to him he is on a quest to save mankind from spiritual destruction. The promise of a reunion with his dead lover, Beatrice, motivates him to triumph yet, as a seed of Adam, Dante is open to temptation and failure.
First, he must descend through the terrifying Inferno, an apocalyptic, inhumane prison of misery and woe to witness the punishment of sin in its most brutal and nefarious forms. This dark realm of the phantasmagorical hosts demons and dragons, behemoths and giants, serpents and she-wolves. Residing for eternity in the infernal city of despair are sinners; corrupt, deviant malefactors all guarded and tormented by sadistic ferrymen, soul snatchers, goddesses of vengeance and the cursed crew of the Damned. He observes barbaric and violent torture including flagellation by fire where the dead burn alive, scalding in rivers of boiling blood, roasting and melting in blazing tombs, drowning in bubbling pits of tar. The welcome chill of an icy tundra as he ventures into the core of the nine circles belies a grotesque, for Dante is set for a propitious encounter with the origin of all that is evil; Hell’s Monarch, once Lucifer now Satan; Emperor of the Universe of Pain.
Surviving his meeting with the Devil, Dante leaves Hell and navigates the desert plains to find the Mountain of Purgatory, a magnificent elevation whereupon redemptive spirits arriving on the Ship of Souls purge their sins through penance, for only after they have attained spiritual purification are they primed to triumph in the perfection and bliss of Paradise. Welcoming the chance to atone, for placement upon the mount allows errant souls to repent through suffering and journey on to Heaven, Dante witnesses purgation of the cardinal sins but not before the Angel of the Gate has carved seven letters into his forehead with the Holy Sword. Encumbered by the invisible weight of vice, Dante must climb each terrace of the colossal mountain that he be cleansed of the blemish of immorality to purify his soul, for only once he is spiritually groomed to climb the Holy Steps at the mountain summit may he ascend to the terrestrial gardens of Paradise.
Abandoned by Virgil, for as a pagan he lacks the theological virtues of faith, hope and love that will carry him upwards through the celestial spheres, our hero is reunited with his sweetheart, Beatrice, who arrives in the magnificent Pageant of the Sacrament to champion her lover to rise to Heaven. Embodying all that is purity and grace, Beatrice encourages Dante to examine God’s greatest gift to mankind, that of free will, and consider how its exertion may influence a blessed soul’s placement in Heaven. Ascension through the perfect glory of the nine stars of Paradise introduces Dante to the Apostles, the Evangelists, the Eagle of Justice, Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ. Humbled by a prayer of intercession from the Virgin Mary, Dante is spiritually prepared for his auspicious encounter with the Heavenly Father, whereupon our hero looks direct into the face of God.
His task now is to use poetic prose to alert mankind to his spiritual failings and lead him out of the darkness back into the light, but restricted to the lexicon of mortal man this enormous challenge weighs heavy. Dante must communicate the triumph and might of the Divine, the celestial beauty of Heaven, the glory and magnificence of the Mountain of Purgatory and the cruelty and barbarity of the savage Inferno. More than ever, earthly man needs reminding that to renounce sin, to repent, atone and earn redemption, to return to the path of Truth is to save himself. For, in death, all seek eternal life in the perfection and bliss that is Paradise.