Dante's Journey Through His 'Mid-Life' Crisis It Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Dante's journey through his 'mid-life' crisis. It uses 7 sources in MLA format and it has a list of bibliography.

Mid-life is a period in life in which adults take on new responsibilities, in the family, and at work and changes are often wrought within, not only in the physical but also in their spiritual self. The realities of life often stare them in the face, a very real possibility of death begins to strike them, their faith or lack of it is in doubt, very often there are crises in personal or work life, there is a general need to "reappraise previous life structures with an eye to making revisions while there is still time" (Huyck, 1997).

The term of "mid-life crisis" was originally coined by Jaques (1965) who claimed that people encounter a crisis as they realize their own mortality and a change in time frame from "time since birth" to "time left to live." (Shek, 1996). Specifically, the mid-life crisis is often thought to include: worries about the future, inability to enjoy leisure time, a feeling of failing health is deteriorating, a negative evaluation of the marital relationship, a negative evaluation of work life, and stress arising from taking care of the elderly. (Shek, 1996). However,.".. It is now appreciated that a critical component of experiencing a crisis is being able to see it through to a resolution." (Atkinson, R., 2002)

Dante's mid-life situation

The Divine Comedy is thought to be written by Dante's mature years. In this epic poem, the opening canto of Inferno describes Dante's own mid-life situation as follows: "I found myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard it is to tell what that wood was, wild, rugged, harsh; the very thought of it renews the fear! It is so bitter that death is hardly more so." Ever since the existence of a mid-life crisis has been postulated, Dante's experience has become the metaphor for the middle life years. (Atkinson, R., 2002)

In the context of a normal, socially prescribed rite of passage, a 'crisis' is the halfway point through a natural process. If one focuses on only one part of a complete and purposeful process, one may miss the intent of the whole. People in traditional cultures accepted that the life cycle comprised stages and that getting through the times of transition was a natural process. They did not fear the middle (i.e., the conflict or crisis) part of the process; because they knew it would be resolved eventually. (Atkinson, R., 2002) Dante was an ardent Catholic, as well as a Classicist who had been living the lfie of a political exile away from his beloved Florence. In The Divine Comedy, he created a highly regimented Hell, developing a hierarchy of sins in the tradition of Greek philosophy. Each sin was illustrated in well-known figures in 14th century Italy and the legendary Greeks and Romans, among whom were his numerous political enemies as well. (Campbell, M.P., 1995).

Taking the view of Atkinson, that people in traditional cultures accepted the life cycle as comprising of stages and that getting through the times of transition was a natural process, one would suppose from a reading of this allegorical work that Dante's inner conflict also saw its resolution. According to Atkinson, the people in traditional cultures did not fear the conflict or crisis part of the process; because they had faith in its eventual resolution. As in any traditional flocculate or myth in which a protagonist encounters adversity but ultimately overcomes it, Dante vanquishes his own monsters within and finds an ally in the wilderness who helps him out.

As the French ethnographer and folklorist, Arnold van Gennep first systematically describes in his The Rites of Passage (1909), "The life of an individual in any society is a series of passages from one age to another," and ceremonies celebrate an individual's transitions from one status to another within a given culture. The three very basic phases in the scheme of all rites of passage identified by him are: (Atkinson, R., 2002) there is separation from the familiar and from the group, transition, in which the individual acquires new knowledge and new status.

Finally, there is incorporation, or a return to the group, where the individual assumes his or her new role and carries out the functions associated with that position.

The crisis that is allowed to be completed, will bring about a redefinition of roles, priorities, and values. A person familiar with the natural pattern of the transition to these new roles is better able to cope with mid-life crisis than someone not so familiar.

Dante's mid-life crisis was a spiritual one

Dante's journey described in The Divine Comedy is a kind of transition from his own spiritual crisis, in which he passed from his experiences of misery and helplessness to recovery, hope and joy. Like Augustine, whose classic spiritual autobiography The Confessions, describes his soul's tortuous journey to God, alongwith all the misery, recovery and joys on the way, Dante at the beginning of his story identifies with every Christian pilgrim: "Midway along the journey of our life I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path." Dante's spiritual journey to God, like Augustine's, took him from the misery of sin, through the healing process of recovery and conversion, into a radical experience of God's love and grace. (Collins, Jim J., 2002) But Dante's journey passes through three stages: Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, and he rediscovers his faith and exhilaratingly rediscovers God in the two later stages.

Dante begins by describing his emotional and spiritual crisis and the terrible fear like the fear of death that has gripped him. Then he sees a mountain in the distance which represents happiness, and which is lighted by the sun, representing God, but he has lost his way and cannot reach it. A dark valley and, worse still, three ferocious beasts confront him and block his path. The story has been taken as an allegory. Or all these metaphors can be taken to describe Dante's profound mid-life crisis. His life testifies to that. He had lost everything: family, friends, good reputation, property, career and citizenship in his beloved Florence, banished to exile.

All his supports gone, his political and literary ambitions frustrated, his self-respect lost, his very soul alienated from itself, from human community and from God. "I was a fragile boat without sail or rudder, driven by the cruel wind of painful poverty to different ports and shores." This corresponds to what Gennep calls the 'separation from the familiar and from the group.' (Atkinson, R.,)

It is not difficult to commiserate with Dante's bitter experiences. All of us have had our own dark days when we find ourselves lost and troubled for some reason, metaphorically speaking, lost in a dark desert. Dante documents the supposed resolution of his crisis in his allegorical work. In this he, "an ardent Catholic Classicist and a bitter political exile, creates a highly regimented Hell... " He develops a hierarchy of sins in the tradition of Greek natural philosophy. That he illustrates each sin in legendary Greeks and Romans, as well-known figures in 14th century Italy, among whom were his numerous political enemies as well, should be considered a component of that resolution. (Campbell, M.P., 1995).

The three beasts he has to confront in the initial stages, the leopard, the lion and the wolf that prevent him from ascending the mountain of joy, represent the 'demons' lurking within -- the desires, addictions and sins. They are also images of the power of Florence, of France as an interventionist foreign power waiting to intervene, and of the Church, with its dual claim to secular and spiritual authority. But with the help and guidance, of Virgil (representing humanist rationality) who guides him through hell and purgatory, he goes onward. In the Earthly paradise of the summit he meets Beatrice, (canto 30 of Purgatory), where Virgil disappears. Beatrice becomes the guide through the heavens of the paradise, until she is replaced in canto 31 by Bernard of Clairvoix who prays to the Virgin that Dante may be granted the beatific vision, in the last canto. Thus Dante successfully goes through the whole process.

Although the poem describes an imaginary journey through the realm of the afterlife, it deals with human experience. Dante encounters on his way the souls of people he knew once and whose experiences in life he evaluates. Parallels are drawn to the social and political events of the time, and interpretation of the meaning of human existence in which Dante himself was an actor in real life sought.

But the basic pattern for Dante's journey is Jesus' descent into hell and ascent to heaven: a passage from darkness to light, from death to eternal life - The Passover Mystery, source of every Christian's passage from sin to God. (Campbell, M.P., 1995).

That this was…

Cite This Term Paper:

"Dante's Journey Through His 'Mid-Life' Crisis It" (2002, April 15) Retrieved January 19, 2018, from

"Dante's Journey Through His 'Mid-Life' Crisis It" 15 April 2002. Web.19 January. 2018. <

"Dante's Journey Through His 'Mid-Life' Crisis It", 15 April 2002, Accessed.19 January. 2018,