Divine Comedy: Paradiso

A Disunited Society: The Disturbing Depiction of Muhammad in the Divine Comedy College

In 1312, Dante Alighieri wrote a treatise called De Monarchia, in which he expressed his belief that society would operate best under a single authority - that is, a secular monarch. Dante, in his characteristic rabble-rousing way, argued that peace should be mankind's primary goal, and the only way to attain such a lofty goal is through unity. Two cantos of the poet's Divine Comedy illustrate well his feelings regarding the need for unity and the danger of those who pose a threat to it. The first, canto 28 of Inferno, depicts historical characters like Prophet Muhammad who caused disunity, either religiously, politically or at a more personal level, such as among family members. Through both this canto and another in Paradiso - one that describes the way disunity wrecked Florence - Dante expresses his disdain for those who sow discord among populations.

Both cantos raise several important questions about Dante and the Divine Comedy. Is Dante's real issue the discord itself, or the people who sow it? Is the way he depicts those who threaten unity indicative of his own racist, xenophobic and prejudiced values, or do they represent larger beliefs of medieval European society? Is Dante's understanding of Muhammad really as harsh...

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