“Inferno” is an epic poem and one of three parts of the “Divine Comedy”. Dante started writing it around 1307 and finished it a bit before his death in 1321.
Dante called it a comedy because in his time that was the name for a narrative that had a sad beginning but a happy ending. “Divine” was inserted into he title by Giolito in 1555 to emphasize the perfection of the work.
The theme of the epic poem is the enforcement of God’s justice like Dante pictured it in 9 circles of hell that match the sin committed.
The work was meant for Beatrice, Dante’s great love, that shows up in the work as his guide through Paradise and in hell she is mentioned as the person who sent Virgil to save Dante from the dark forest and take him through hell.
Dante believed in the symbolism of numbers so the comedy has three parts: Inferno/Hell, Purgatorio/Purgatory, Paradiso/Heaven. Every part has 33 cantos, so the whole work, including the introductory canto has 100 cantos and that is the perfect number.
The last verse of every part ends with the word “stars” because the author strives towards them.
Dante’s hell has 9 circles and he smaller the circle is the heavier the sin is. The last three circles are additionally divided: the seventh has 3 smaller rings, the eight has ten ditches, and the ninth has 4 rounds.
Lucifer is at the bottom and he is, up to his waist, dived into ice. He is shown as a monster with three faces that is punishing three biggest sinners: Brutus, Cassius and Judas.
The poet’s journey begins in 1300 when he was 35 and that age was considered to be the one half of the human life. He was lost in a dark forest that symbolized evil and he was looking for a way out. He encountered a lion, a leopard and a she-wolf – those are the symbols of greed, arrogance and intemperance.
He was saved by Virgil who told Dante that he has to go through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven and that he will lead him through Hell.
Dante doesn’t believe he could go on such a journey bur Virgil explains that he was sent by Beatrice to show him the right way.
Virgil and Dante came to the doorsof Hell and a warning was written above them. It said that all that enter should leave hope behind. They heard numerous painful yells. They first encounter the Uncommitted – those who did nothing in life. They were running and crying because they were chased by bees and worms sucked the blood out of their legs.
Virgil brought Dante to the river Acheron where many souls waited to be translated to the other side, that’s Hell, by Charon.
Charon leads Dante, the living soul amongst the dead, and Virgil explained him that they are traveling by the orders of Heaven. Virgil believed that Charon’s reluctance was a good sign because only the cursed souls crossed the river. The ground started shaking and Dante fainted.
Dante woke up on the other side and he entered the first circle of Hell with Virgil. The circles were arranged according to the sins.
The first circle was called Limbo and the souls of the non baptized people who lived before Jesus Christ. Virgil was also in that circle.
Jesus came down to Hell and allowed people like Noah and Moses to leave it. Dante encountered many famous people such as Homer, Horace, Lucan and Ovid. They took him to a castle surrounded with seven walls that were easy to pass. There he saw Aristotle, Socrates, Cesar…
In front of the second circle of Hell is Minos who wraps his tail around himself a correspondent amount of time and by doing that he sends the soul to a particular circle of hell that matches their sins. Dante warns Virgil again that he is a living soul and that he should not enter but Virgil explains how they were sent to this journey by the orders of Heaven.
In the second circle the wind never ends. Here live the sinners who couldn’t resist their lust and committed adultery. Dante sees Semiramis, Cleopatra, Achilles, Tristan, Helena… Dante has a lot of compassion for these sinners because they ended in hell because of love and he also wants to hear some of their stories.
His wish is granted by Francesca that fell in love with her husband’s brother Paolo Malatesta. Once, while they were reading, they kissed and her husband saw that. He ordered his people to kill them. Dante, due to the remorse he felt, fainted.
The gluttons are in the third circle. Their punishment is an never-ending rain and they are being tortured by Cerberus, a three-headed dog that is the guardian of Hades.
He tried to stop Dante and Virgil but Virgil freed the way. One of the sinners recognized Dante from his days in Florence and he asked him to remember him when he gets out of hell.
Dante and Virgil came to the fourth circle of hell where the scrooges and the wasters were. They were guarded by Plutus, the Greek god of wealth. They were condemned to pushing a heavy weight. On one side there were the scrooges and on the other the wasters. When they eventually crashed they would have to start everything over.
Many popes, priests and cardinals were also here.
The fifth circle of hell is on the river Styx. The souls of the angry bath in a river of mud, punch and bite each other.
Virgil warns Dante that the souls of the lazy are also here but they can’t be seen because they are completely dived into the mud.
Dante and Virgil came to a burning tower surrounded by Styx River. They were transported over the river by Pflegyas and they were approaching the lower part of the hell, a city called Dis.
The fallen angels tried to stop them because they didn’t want a living soul entering the city. This time not even Virgil managed to make their way through to the city.
Virgil convinces Dante that they will get into the city. Three furies appear and they were the goddesses of revenge. They were half women and half snake. They invite Medusa to turn Dante into a stone but Virgil covers his eyes and saves him.
In thumbs surrounded by fire lied the heretics – all of those who didn’t believe in the pope’s doctrine and the soul’s immortality.
During they conversations with Farinats degli Umberti they find out that they punishment is predicting the future but not knowing anything about the present. She predicts Dante’s banishment from Florence.
Dante and Virgil go on through the sixth circle.
Dante is still concerned about the prophecy he heard but Virgil convinces him that he will find out more when they arrive to a better place.
The seventh circle of hell smelled horrible so Dante and Virgil sit on the grave of a pope until they get used to the smell. Virgil explains the last three circle of hell and their division.
In the seventh circle, that is divided into three rings are those who were violent nd hurt their close ones, themselves of God.
In the eight circle are the ordinary sinners, frauds, and those who violated trust amongst people. That circle is divided into bolgias.
In the ninth circle, the capital of Dis, are the traitors. It is divided into 4 parts – traitors of the one close to them, traitors of their country, traitors of guests and the traitors of the well-doers.
The poets head towards the first ring of the seventh circle.
Minotaur is in the seventh circle and they have to escape his rage in order to enter the ring.
In the first ring are the violent ones and they are dipped into the boiling blood river Phlegethon. They are guarded by centaurs (half man, half horse) and they shoot arrows at the ones who try to dive out of the river.
The main centaur is Chiron and he attacks Dante because he is not dead but Virgil commands him to leave Dante alone and to bring him a guide so they could cross the river. He sent them Nessus, that mentions some of the famous souls in this ring such as Alexander the Great, Atila, Dyonisius…
The poets go alone to the next ring.
This ring is surrounded by a forest with big black trees. Screams are heard from everywhere. The sinners were turned into trees and they were haunted by starved dogs.
Pier della Vigna is in this circle. He used to be a good man but he was libelled and because of that he took his own life.
The third ring is reserved for those who sinned against God, nature and art. They are chased by a never-ending rain of flames. Every one of the sinners is in one part. Those who sinned against God are forced to lie in the sand and put up with the rain.
In the second part of the third ring are those who sinned against nature and they are forced to walk under the rain forever.
One of the sinners is Brunetto Latini that predicts Dante’s reward for his heroic political actions. Dante refuses his prediction and states that everything will go how fate decides.
The poets are still in the same part of the third ring and they are approached by three souls, who used to be Dante’s acquaintances. The flames completely destroyed their appearance but Dante recognizes them by their names.
In front of the third part of the ring Geryon dives out of the water. He is a monster with a human face, body of a snake and two paws.
Virgil stands in front of the entrance and Dante explores this part on his own. He sees sodomites forced to stand under the rain and carry the family grave.
He comes back to the entrance and Geryon takes them to the eight circle.
The eight circle is pictured as 10 bolgias. Ordinary sinners and frauds are in those bolgias.
In the first one are the panderers and seducers that run from one part of the bolgia to another where demons whip them.
Here they encounter Jason, who was punished for leaving Medea for Creusa.
In the second bolgia they find flatterers who are dipped into human feces.
In the third bolgia are those who committed simony. They were hanging upside down and their legs were surrounded by flames.
Dante encountered Pope Nicholas III., that regrets his deeds but claims that bigger sinners exist and that they will have a bigger punishment. Dante shows no mercy for him because he believes that the pope deserved his punishment and he judges all of the others. He heads towards the 4 bolgia.
Sorcerers and false prophets are walking in a procession and at a first glance Dante thought they had no punishment but then he realized their heads were set backwards so that their tears fall on their behinds.
He felt sorry for them and Virgil lectured him because of that. He explained to Dante that a sinner who used powers that were not permitted to see the future is punished by looking backwards forever.
The fifth bolgia is dark and the sinners are frauds immersed into boiling pitch. The demons Malebranche don’t let them dive out.
They let Dante and Virgil to go through and they are chaperoned by the main demon Malacoda because the bridge they were supposed to walk on crashed down exactly 1266 years and 19 hours ago.
A sinner explains to Dante that he is in the fifth bolgia because he took bribe. He promises to bring all of the Italian sinners from the bolgia but the guards suspects it’s only an excuse to avoid his punishment. They rush after him but get stuck in the pitch.
Dante and Virgil keep on going on.
The furious demons attack Dante and Virgil but they manage to save themselves by running away because the guards can’t go to far from their spots.
They arrive to the sixth bolgia where the hypocrites are. They move in a circle and wear capes and hats made out of lead. Dante notices one man lying on the ground that everyone step on. It was a priest that belonged to the Pontius Pilatus priesthood
Dante and virgil stumble upon difficulties because they have to take the dangerous road due to the bridge’s collapse. They go to the seventh pitch where snakes haunt naked sinners – thieves. One snake caught up with one of the sinners and bit him. He immediately burst into flames, rose from the ashes and kept on running from the snakes. He was furious because Dante witnessed him humiliation and he prophets his political fall.
Dante and Virgil witness many tortures. For example snakes wrap themselves around the sinners and become one creature with them.
Another sinner is bitten in the stomach and then he changes characteristics with the snake – he becomes a snake and the snake becomes human.
Dante recognizes the sinners as Florence’s thieves and he mocks the city that is disreputable even in hell.
In the eight bolgia are the fake counselors that constantly keep on spinning inside a flame. He sees Odysseus and Diomedes being punished for their crimes committed in the Trojan War.
Some sinner stops Dante in order to gain some information about the state in his country.
He believed that Dante will never leave hell so he represented himself as Guido da Montefeltro and he was punished for giving false political advices.
In the ninth bolgia are the initiators of disharmony. They are moving in a circle and being whipped by demons that cut them in half. When they come under the whip again they wounds heal and they go through the torture again. Muhammad, the Muslim prophet, is also here.
Many Italian who are in this bolgia warn Dante about the big accidents that are in front of him.
The tenth bolgia is divided into ten parts and forgers are in here and they are ill.
In the first part are sinners covered with scabs. Dante encounters two Italians and promises them to convey their messages to their families if they tell him their stories. They accept and tell him that they are here because they were involved in alchemic experiments.
In the second part of the tenth bolgia the sinners tear each other apart by their teeth. Here are the forgers who misrepresented themselves. Some of them are from the third and fourth part and they are money forgers and liars.
In front of the ninth circle of Hell, Dante and Virgil encounter three giants Nimrod, Ephialtes and Antaeus. They are chained and guard the entrance. They are the giants that rebelled against God.
Antaeus helps them to cross to the ninth circle by carrying them in his hand. In the last circle are the traitors in a frozen lake Cocytus.
The ninth circle is divided into four rounds. The first one is Caina, named after the biblical character who murdered his own brother. The traitors of their close ones are here. Gianciotto, the murderer of Paolo and Francesca is also here.
Dante saw sinners who banged their heads in rage.
The second round is called Antenora and the country traitors are there. Count Ugolino and bishop Ruggieri are here. The bishop imprisoned the count and his sons under the accusation that they are spies. He starved them so Ugolino as forced to eat the flesh of off his sons when they died.
In the third circle called Ptolomaea and the guest traitors. They are lying in the frozen lake and only their head are above the ice.
While approaching the center of hell Dante sees sinners that are completely dived into the lake. Those were the souls of the ones who betrayed the good-doers.
The last round is called Guidecca. In the bottom is Lucifer, a giant, immersed up to his waist in the frozen lake. He has three big heads and in each one he has one of the three biggest sinners: Judas, who betrayed Jesus Christ, Brutus and Cassius that killed Caesar.
Lucifer’s mouth chops the sinners into little pieces but they never kill them.
When he approached the end of Hell Dante and Virgil went to the Purgatory.
Genre: narrative epic; the title “Divine” was added in one translation and “comedy” represents a work that has a sad beginning but a happy ending.
Time: Holy Friday, 1300 (we can’t say for sure was it the 25th of March or 8th of April)
Place: dark forest, Hell
Characters: Dante, Virgil, sinners, Hell’s guards (demons and monsters)
Dante – author and the main character. He begins his journey when he was 35 and that year was the middle point of life. The forest he got lost in was the symbol of everything evil that stopped him from getting to God.
In order to repent for his sins he has to go through Hell that has a hierarchical structure. The sinners go from easier to heavier sins.
Dante’s character represents the sinful manhood. In the epic we can recognize Dante, the poet and writer and Dante, the character. They differ because Dante that goes through Hell feels empathy and pity for the sinners while Dante, the author shows no emotions and he is the one who placed the sinners in their belonging circles.
Virgil – one of the biggest Roman poets. He symbolizes the human sense and he is Dante’s guide through Hell. He was sent by Beatrice to lead Dante to the right path. He has many virtues such as wisdom and determination.
Dante placed him in the first circle of Hell, the Limb, where the non baptized souls are, in other words people who lived before Christ.