Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.
Inferno by Dante Alighieri describes a journey into the Underworld, undertaken by Dante himself. It's one of the first works written in Italian rather than Latin, and part of the trilogy known as the Divine Comedy. Along the way, Dante not only explores many elements of Christian belief, but also gets the chance to criticize many in his own society that would otherwise be untouchable for a writer. In this lesson, we will briefly summarize Inferno before meeting its cast.
Dante starts on the eve of Good Friday in 1300 by losing his way in the woods. He stumbles into Virgil, the legendary Latin poet, who offers to not only get him out of the forest, but take him to the high mountain where his long-dead love, Beatrice, resides. However, Virgil warns that they must first go through Hell. They pass through gates that say ''Abandon all hope all ye who enter here'' and Virgil informs Dante that Hell is made up of different circles. Each circle features a different punishment that is a symbolic of the sin committed. For example, the first circle of Hell is called Limbo, because it's where the unbaptized and all those otherwise good people who didn't believe in Christianity end up. The second circle is for the lustful, where souls swarm in a storm without finding peace. The third circle is for the gluttonous where souls lie in mud as feces falls upon them. Then there's the circle for avarice and prodigality, where they push massive weights for eternity. In the fifth circle, the angry fight for eternity on a sheet of ice while the sullen gurgle beneath it.
Note that many of these punishments are somewhat poetic. For example, those that cannot find a place to secure themselves to in life, the lustful, never find peace. Meanwhile, those who consumed a great deal in life, the gluttonous, are covered in feces. Also, Dante chose to spare the virtuous pagans who were not Christian but still lead worthwhile lives. Non-virtuous people of all faiths are addressed at other points.
Dante and Virgil finally reach the city of Dis, at which point angels have to force open the gates as the demons refuse the pair entry. Also, there start to be different stages to some of the circles. In the sixth circle, heretics are burned in tombs. In the first ring of the seventh circle, people who were violent towards others boil in blood, while in the second ring, those who were violent towards themselves, suicide victims, are stuck as trees, forever plucked by harpies, and the profligate are chased by dogs. In the third ring, those who are violent towards God or nature are burned alive in a rain of fire.
The two men then reach the Eighth Circle, itself divided into ten bolgias, each like a step down into this conical circle, houses a different type of fraud. For example, those who simply lie are on the second bolgia, and are stuck in feces. Corrupt politicians are stuck in boiling pitch (tar), with demons poking them with pitchforks on bolgia five. Meanwhile, evil advisers are on bolgia eight, and are engulfed in flames.
Finally, we come to the ninth circle of Hell. This is where those guilty of treachery are imprisoned and all of them are covered in ice up to their necks. This circle has four rounds. Round One houses the murderers, Round Two those who betray their countries, Round Three those who betrayed their guests, and Round Four houses those who betrayed their lords. Those in this last round are completely covered in ice. Meanwhile, the three greatest traitors in history, Judas, Brutus, and Cassius, are chewed by three different mouths of Lucifer.
After seeing Lucifer, the pair climbs out of Hell by way of Lucifer's frozen hair, crossing the river of forgetfulness, called Lethe, and emerge back on Earth on Easter morning.
Dante himself is the protagonist of the whole Divine Comedy and journeys through Hell. He is guided on this trip by the greatest of the classical Latin writers, Virgil. Obviously, the entity that they encounter at the end is Lucifer, the Devil himself, who is represented as the ultimate evil.
Dante used the opportunity to criticize many of his personal and political enemies in Inferno, giving them particularly harsh sentences. Many of those characters are not well known to the average reader.
While Dante makes quick reference to many of his contemporaries, a number of historical figures stand out. First of all, in Limbo, a number of 'virtuous pagans' can be found. These range from the greatest minds of the Greeks and Romans to the most virtuous enemy of Christendom, Saladin, the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem. Another great military leader, Alexander the Great, is found being punished in the seventh circle for his violent conquests. Speaking of Alexander, one of his mistresses, Thais, can be found drowning in feces in the Eighth Circle.
A number of mythical figures are also found. Ulysses and Jason, both Greek heroes, find that their misdeeds land them in Hell. Meanwhile, the Greek ferryman Charon regains his historic role of ferrying the dead across the River Styx.
Dante's Inferno is a cornerstone of Western literature, and one of the first to be written in a vernacular language after the fall of Rome. It details the trip of the author and protagonist, Dante, accompanied by guide and Latin writer, Virgil, through the various levels of Hell, from the different circles and including the city of Dis. The lower circles are in turn divided into more levels, such as the bolgias, or steps down, of the Eighth Circle. The ninth circle of Hell is reserved for traitors. Along the way, Virgil and Dante meet many famous, and infamous, people, from the past, from myth, and from Dante's contemporary world. In the end, Dante continues his trip in the Divine Comedy to find Beatrice.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack