The Divine Comedy is Dante Alighieri's epic story in which he is escorted through the nine circles of Hell by the poet Virgil. I will admit that I have never sat down and read the poem from beginning to end, but I have probably read all of its passages randomly throughout my life. I have lots of thoughts and interests in this poem and none of them based on educated knowledge of poetry, but rather my own lay personal attractions and musings. I for example am interested in the fact that he made the inner circle of Hell, ice. Those sinners so cold and remorseless that even the inner fires of Hell could not thaw them. How very wicked indeed. I am also fascinated (although of course the religious/cultural affects of ideology during the 14th C is of interest as well) by the political story in and behind this poem. Dante wrote all three books (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) of the Divine Comedy while he was exiled for life from Florence by the leaders of the Black Guelphs, the political faction in power at the time, due to his political beliefs.
Spark notes says:
Dante’s personal life and the writing of The Comedy were greatly influenced by the politics of late-thirteenth-century Florence. The struggle for power in Florence was a reflection of a crisis that affected all of Italy, and, in fact, most of Europe, from the twelfth century to the fourteenth century—the struggle between church and state for temporal authority. The main representative of the church was the pope, while the main representative of the state was the Holy Roman Emperor. In Florence, these two loyalties were represented by the Guelph party, which supported the papacy, and the Ghibelline party, which supported imperial power. The last truly powerful Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, died in 1250, and by Dante’s time, the Guelphs were in power in Florence. By 1290, however, the Guelphs had divided into two factions: the Whites (Dante’s party), who supported the independence of Florence from strict papal control, and the Blacks, who were willing to work with the pope in order to restore their power. Under the direction of Pope Boniface VIII, the Blacks gained control of Florence in 1301. Dante, as a visible and influential leader of the Whites, was exiled within a year. Dante became something of a party unto himself after his exile. His attitudes were, at times, closer to those of a Ghibelline than a Guelph, so much did he dislike Boniface. The pope, as well as a multitude of other characters from Florentine politics, has a place in the Hell that Dante depicts in Inferno—and not a pleasant one.