Inferno is the impact crater from when Lucifer fell from Heaven to Earth. Heaven is located on top of Purgatorio, which is a mountain created from matter displacement by Lucifer's fall on the other side of the planet. Something doesn't add up here. Has he perhaps reentered the atmosphere via orbital decay? That'd explain why the reentry and the landing points are so far off...
Nah. He simply landed hard enough to push the center of the earth through and out the other side into a mountain. And Heaven isn't on top of the Mount of Purgatory — it was scattered among the celestial bodies.
There's fridge-brilliant symbolism behind Satan being at the centre of the world, and Heaven being immaterial and everywhere else, just as the lowest pit of hell is the coldest and darkest; being the one most removed from God, so what does that say about worldly life?
This is probably a case of Science Marches On: medieval physics wasn't all that accurate. (They thought heavy bodies fell faster than light ones, until Galileo showed them otherwise.)
Actually, it's an allegory. When Lucifer was cast from the heavens, the Earth was so disgusted that it tried to escape as far away from him as possible, thus creating the "crater" and the mountain on the other side. Also, Heaven isn't on top of Purgatorio, the Garden of Eden is; from the Garden of Eden, Dante takes off and flies through Heaven, which is composed of several concentric spheres around Earth, until he reaches God. The only thing that's a bit of a stretch is that when Lucifer fell, he managed to land exactly opposite the Garden of Eden.
Hardly a stretch, if you think about it. God hurls Satan down from Heaven, aiming for the spot on Earth that's exactly opposite from where Humanity's first sin occurred.
Satan fell before Adam and Eve did, though.
Which is why it makes sense that God would have made the garden of Eden where He did, to keep Adam and Eve as far away from the corrupting influence of Satan as possible.
Was anybody else puzzled by Cassius's inclusion in Lucifer's mouth? That implies he's the third greatest betrayer of all time. I'm not saying Cassius wasn't guilty, he certainly belonged in the Ninth Level. But Brutus and Judas each betrayed a dear friend and mentor, to the victim's despair and horror. Cassius and Caesar never really liked each other and had an alliance of political convenience. Cassius conspiring against Caesar was a relatively mundane, run-of-the-mill Curse Your Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal: no kiss or unkindest cut of all. Did we really need Rule of Three here, seeing as Lucifer makes for a fourth betrayer anyway?
The divine comedy runs on rule of three. Trintarian symbolism (in this case, an ironic inversion) and all that.
Realistically, it should have been Caine instead of Cassius. The other two of the chief traitors (The betrayer of family, the betrayer of country, and the betrayer of God) are there. I never got that. It might have been a political thing.
Indeed, Caine would have been the better choice. Also, don't forget Lucifer himself, who was the original betrayer of God (God Father, maybe? Judas betrayed the God Son), which makes it four betrayers in the greatest depth of Hell.
Anyone care to explain the comedy part of this tale?
That is simple. Back when it was written, every story that ended more or less happily was called a comedy. If it didn't, it was called a tragedy. And that was it...
Furthermore, comedies typically ended with lovers being united. Dante's desire to be reunited with Beatrice is the entire motivation behind the first two books.
It has nothing to do with either of those reasons, actually. The epic was originally called "Commedia", which translates into 'Common', and was called such because it was written in Italian. During Dante's time, Italian was the language of the common people, rather than Latin, the language of the nobles, which was what all other books and poems were written in. Dante enabled his "Commedia" ('Comedy', if you will) to be read by the everyday-man. "Commedia" became boiled down to 'Comedy' over time.
I wouldn't say that makes the first answer wrong, though. The reason why "commedia", "common", and "comedy" all come from the same root is because the idea of "comedy" was that it appealed to the common people, who were stereotyped as people who couldn't handle the seriousness of tragedy and could only handle cheap jokes or vulgarity, simple language, and happy endings. I'd say Divine Comedy isn't funny, but it does have all three of those. So it's a mixture of the first and third answer, I think.
Early on the poem, it is explained that "virtuous pagans" (those who were good people but died without ever knowing Jesus) go to hell, but are not punished. It's not exactly a fair system, but it's acceptable considering the Values Dissonance that one would expect in something from the Middle Ages. But if that's the case... then why is Ripheus, a pagan from the Trojan war, in heaven?
Don't forget that Jesus broke the Biblical Patriarchs out of Hell and took them with him to heaven. Every other virtuous individual living in the 4000 years between the Genesis and Jesus' birth just had to watch them walk out and excercise true Christian forgiveness.
Then how come none of the other Virtuous Pagans have done so? They don't seem like the unrepentant type.
They're not Biblical Patriarchs? Or maybe Jesus inherited some of Dad's dickishness and just chose his favorite people to take with him to Heaven so they can hang out.
Virgil and a theologian in Paradiso both claim that those in limbo who manage to gain faith in God can be allowed to leave by special dispensation (Virgil mentions pre-Christians who prayed to God, which is presumably where the Harrowing of Hell comes in, and the theologian allows for postmortem conversion). This fits fairly well with the thrust of Limbo, which is more about the limits of reason.
That just raises further questions. Since Limbo contains some of the most rational people who lived before the time, wouldn't they all pray to the Christian God once they found out he was real?
Dante's Limbo has been described as a deficient form of heaven. It's not really that bad of a place, but it's still not heaven. My guess is that if they're happy there and have no interest in the Christian God, then they'll stay. But Dante describes them as grieving that they are stuck there because they weren't baptised, but then again, all those (or at least some) who were rescued probably weren't baptised, so he's a bit uneven. My guess is that he'd decided to put the nice pagans in Limbo, but he was a fan (or a hater) of other ones and chucked them in hell, purgatory, or heaven depending on how much he liked them. (Or by how much they illustrate the type of person that belong in each circle/level/sphere).
Dante himself is quite puzzled by the matter of the salvation of those born before the coming of Christ and has no completely satisfying answer to it; the author seems dissatisfied by the theological doctrine of his age when, in Heaven, (Paradiso XIX) he question the eagle (symbol of the divine wisdom) about it and close the problem with something akin to "you cannot understand the mystery of salvation with your limited human tools".