Imagery in Dante's Inferno: Examples & Recurring Images

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  • 0:04 Vivid Imagery
  • 0:52 Demons & Sinners
  • 2:09 Tears
  • 3:12 Stars
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Mallari

I have taught Language Arts for 4 years and served as a Professor for ENG 101 and GLS for more than 3 years. I am a licensed teacher with a B.A. in English Literature, International and Global Studies, and Religious Studies. I have a M.A. in Global Studies.

When you think of inferno, no doubt you think of intense fire. ''Dante's Inferno'' explores the ultimate inferno - hell - in detail that leaves readers feeling like they have traversed through hell themselves. Find out how imagery in ''Dante's Inferno'' leaves you spellbound and captivated with every line.

Vivid Imagery

Imagery, which is the literary device that uses vivid description to appeal to readers' senses, is often used by authors to captivate audiences and propel them into a world of fiction. For Dante Alighieri, the writer of Dante's Inferno, imagery is an understatement for what is a figurative hell. Utilizing imagery to appeal to every possible sense, Alighieri creates a vivid and painful hell that protagonist Dante must traverse through. Within the novel, reoccurring images heighten the gruesome splendor of the figurative hell that Dante becomes consumed in.

There are several significant images in Dante's Inferno, many of which are repeated throughout each realm that Dante visits to tie in the motif of pain and suffering. Let's look at them one at a time.

Demons & Sinners

The description of the demons and the sinners in hell is one of the most enthralling and stomach turning images ever written in literature. In each Canto, which is a division in long form poetry, particularly from Dante's era, Dante uses a plethora of descriptions to describe the agony and pain experienced.

In one example, Dante remarks:

And as they scrubbed and clawed themselves, their nails
drew down the scabs the way a knife scrapes bream
or some other fish with even larger scales

This example highlights the sheer chaotic nature of hell, the torment, agony, and excruciating torture that the demons were forced to endure consistently. The image of a knife scraping against a fish scale creates a physically alarming reaction for readers, creating the atmosphere of perpetual agony that the author no doubt wanted to achieve.

In another scene, Dante notices a collection of demons that appear most foul. He states:

These miscreants, who never were alive,
were naked, and were stung exceedingly
By gadflies and by hornets that were there.

Prior to this statement, Dante actually declared the monsters to be wretches that were hateful to God. This strong language and vivid descriptions clearly show the depraved nature of the monsters suffering in Hell.


In Dante's Inferno, tears are a symbolic and comparative image that show the remorse and utter lack of divine grace in Hell. The demons often shed tears as their souls are twisted in never-ending torture.

In one particular Canto, Dante states:

These did their faces irrigate with blood
Which, with their tears commingled, at their feet
By the disgusting worms was gathered up.

The demons would weep and recount their misery to Dante, who remarked at how pitiful the sight was. In another Canto, Dante claimed:

These land of tears gave forth a blast of wind,
and fulminated a vermilion light,
which overmastered in me every sense

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