The Poet's Journey by Michela Lazzaroni
I have always been fascinated by data visualization as a tool for literary exploration. It not only provides an “overview” of the entire text but also sheds new light on classics, allowing us to appreciate them in unique ways. As an Italian freelancer, I decided to create a visual analysis of Dante's “Divine Comedy.”
The “Divine Comedy” is divided into three Cantiche – “Inferno,” “Purgatorio,” and “Paradiso” – each full of symbolic, allegorical, and political meanings portrayed through the encounters Dante makes on his otherworldly journey. It is 14,233 verses long.
The dataset was compiled by hand. I re-read the poem and mapped all the characters mentioned: the ones that Dante encountered and the ones that are discussed by Dante and other characters. I also noted whether the characters were fictional or real, their gender – male, female, or other –, whether they were Dante's contemporaries, and if they spoke to him. Additionally, I included all the mentions of God, including periphrases – such as “That emperor who reigns in Heaven,” Inf., I, 124. Lastly, I assigned special symbols for Dante’s guides: Virgil, his literary mentor, and Beatrice, the poet's beloved woman.
The result was three illustrated tables, each holding a triple value. Firstly, they provided a detailed map of encounters, making it easy to find characters in each canto or vice versa. Secondly, they revealed the evolution of encounters within each Cantica, such as the canto with the most characters, the ratio of fictional to real characters, and the representation of male and female figures. Lastly, the tables allow a comparison between the Cantiche, highlighting differences, such as the greater number of characters in Hell compared to the other realms and the increased mentions of God as the poem progresses.
I thoroughly enjoyed this project. It had been a while since I last delved into the “Divine Comedy”, and it was both exciting and challenging to revisit it – the tragic tale of Ugolino della Gherardesca in canto XXXIII of the “Inferno” never fails to make me cry.
What's most rewarding is the positive feedback I received from teachers, who hoped to use this visual approach in schools to engage students and aid their learning process. Guided by Dante through this journey, I feel proud that my work inspired others to read this masterpiece anew and perhaps “go out to see the stars” with him once more.