The monomyth, or long journey, is a common format for telling stories. There are many such accounts, but two well-known examples of the monomyth are the story of Adam and Eve with the temple pattern and Alighieri Dante’s pilgrimage in The Divine Comedy. Dante’s excursion through the underworld is the Catholic version of the plan of salvation. It follows the stages of the monomyth and is nearly identical to the LDS temple pattern, which is Creation, Garden, Fall, Long Journey, and Final Judgment and Triumph. This essay will show how Dante’s trip through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise to find redemption follows the long journey portion of the LDS temple pattern to exaltation.
The first step of any long journey is the departure or separation from normal life. Adam and Eve “fell” to begin their long journey back into the presence of God, and their Fall made it necessary for all their posterity to follow in their footsteps. In fact, every person who desires exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom must first awake to their need for repentance and acceptance of Jesus Christ. Likewise, Dante must recognize his need to make changes and to soften his hard heart. “Midway this way of life we’re bound upon, / I woke to find myself in a dark wood, / Where the right road was wholly lost and gone” (Hell 71). The realization that one has left the straight and narrow path or the “right road” is the first step to change. The second step in this journey is the recognition that one can never fully repent without help from someone else. LDS members have bishops, stake presidents, and the power of the Holy Ghost to help them along the way. Similarly, Dante receives guidance from the Roman poet Virgil, then his ideal woman named Beatrice, and finally St. Bernard of Clairvaux as he nears the end of his journey.
A major step in the journey to exaltation is the heartache of facing the darkness and consequences of sin. Dante discovers this truth as he travels through the nine circles of Hell where he sees shades suffering punishment for various sins. In the eighth circle Dante and Virgil find a “shade” writhing on the ground with three stakes in him. The friar tells them that it is Caiaphas, the High Priest who condemned Jesus Christ to death. “He thou dost gaze on, pierced by the triple stake, / Counseled the Pharisees ‘twas expedient / One man should suffer for the people’s sake. / Naked, transverse, barring the road’s extent, / He lies; and all who pass, with all their load / Must tread him down; such is his punishment. / In this same ditch lie stretched in this same mode / His father-in-law, and all the Sanhedrim / Whose counsel sowed for the Jews the seed of blood” (Hell, 216). After seeing the crucifixion of Caiaphas, the two travelers are anxious to continue their journey straight through the center of Hell and arrive in Purgatory.
All aspiring Saints must face punishment for their sins and then purge the effects of the sins from their lives. The temple pattern has a series of instructions and covenants that help individuals to avoid temptations and to overcome the effects of sin. In a similar way, Purgatory is a place of purging sins. In the story, Dante and Virgil enter Purgatory and ascend through two terraces where the inhabitants seem unready to commit to repentance. They climb three steps to Peter’s Gate and then enter the first cornice of Purgatory. They immediately see that the occupants are carrying big stones on their backs and are so bent over with the weight that they can see only the ground. The large objects represent the sins of pride, and they must be carried until the shades develop enough humility to rid themselves of the load.
Virgil and Dante speak with several shades, and one of them explains the heartaches of being arrogant. “I am Humbert; and my arrogance beguiled / To loss not only me, but all my kin / It dragged down with it, ruined and reviled. / Therefore, till God be satisfied for sin, / It here behoves me bear among the dead / The load I bore not among living men” (Purgatory, 152). Pride is the first of the seven deadly sins and is the foundation of all other sins. Therefore, pride must be conquered before anyone can progress. For the same reason, the shades must overcome pride before they can move to the second cornice and on through Purgatory. According to LDS doctrine, everyone must be cleansed of their sins by the fire of the Holy Ghost before they can enter the presence of God. Likewise, Dante and Virgil must pass through fire in order to leave Purgatory and proceed toward Paradise. Even as LDS members are taught that they must pass by angels on their journey to the Celestial Kingdom, Dante has a series of guides on his passage. Virgil vanishes after exiting Purgatory, and Beatrice comes to guide Dante into Paradise.
Latter-day Saints must make and keep sacred covenants in order to enter the Kingdom of God, and their spirits shine more brightly as they become more like the Savior. Similarly, Dante must also meet certain requirements in order to abide the increasing glory surrounding Beatrice. She is able to leave the earth and travel through the heavens by looking at the sun, but Dante can look at the sun for only a short period of time before fixing his gaze on Beatrice once again. She becomes lovelier as they rise through the heavens, and he gazes intently into her beautiful eyes. They enter the heaven of Saturn where they see the contemplatives, shining bright as the stars, on the rungs of a golden ladder of love that stretches into the heavens. “Coloured like gold which flashes back the light, / I saw a ladder raised aloft so far / It soared beyond the compass of my sight. Thereon I saw descend from bar to bar / Splendours so numerous I thought the sky / Had poured from heaven the light of every star” (Paradise, 242). As he climbs the rungs of the golden ladder, Dante’s love for Beatrice and God continues to grow.
When Beatrice and Dante reach the top of the golden ladder, Dante looks down upon the seven planets below him and understands that the ladder represents both contemplation and action. Dante now grasps that contemplation or spirituality is the better part, even though action or good works are also required for redemption. He recognizes that good works spring from a heart full of love. Latter-day Saints must learn to love God and their fellowmen as they follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Then He will guide them to Jesus Christ, who will lead them to Heavenly Father. Similarly, Dante continues to gaze into the eyes of Beatrice until she directs him to look at Christ in the distance. “Outshining myriad lamps, One Sun I knew / Which kindled all the rest, even as our sun / Lights the celestial pageantry we view” (Paradise 258). He recognizes that the increasing glory around Beatrice and the beauty in her eyes is the reflection of the love of God. Beatrice then disappears, and St. Bernard becomes Dante’s guide. He later leads Dante into the presence of God.
Dante’s journey through the underworld mirrors the long journey of the temple pattern in that he recognizes his need to change and desires redemption. He travels through the various stages of the monomyth as he separates himself from the sensible world and enters the intellectual world, meets and overcomes his fears and other obstacles, and becomes a changed man as he moves toward his destination. The Divine Comedy is Dante’s idea of life after death and comes from the knowledge available in the Medieval Ages. Although modern revelation has proven some of the doctrine to be incorrect, there is still much truth in Dante’s Divine Comedy, which can inspire his readers to become better people as they take their long journey through mortal life.