Quick Summary of Inferno
An all time classic novel, Dante’s Inferno throws the reader right in the middle of the action — into a dark wood where Dante is meeting his guide named Virgil. Upon their meeting, Virgil agrees to take Dante into hell, which is where Dante’s descent begins.
Through me you pass into the grievous city, through me you pass into eternal pain, through me you pass among the lost people… Abandon all hope, you who enter here. – the gates to hell in Dante’s inferno
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Once they start their descent, Dante witnesses the vast landscape of hell and the 9 circles that make it up. Throughout the course of the story he journeys through each and every one of them, and along the way they stop to observe the punishments endured by the people in each circle.
This action allows Dante to draw parallel conclusions about life, and how one’s actions in life can lead you to eternal torment in the afterlife. Every action has it’s own consequence, and this consequence is reflected in hell and its circles.
The circles of hell function in order of the slightest to most grievous offense. Their order is as follows:
If one manages to survive each individual circle they are able to reach the center of hell, where Satan himself resides.
While Dante observes what is occurring in each circle, he meets the souls of the individuals being tortured. Observing the consequences they have reaped, he is able to learn more about the sins being committed. As he continues on his quest he learns more about how to slip through to the next level of hell (Each circle is heavily guarded so that the tortured souls can not escape and seek relief from their eternal punishments).
Each encapsulates its own unique sin. Going into a lot of detail here will revel a bit too much of the story, but suffice it to say that Dante encounters the likes of powerful historical figures, politicians, and former members of the elite class. After enduring many trials along the way, Dante makes it to the center of hell. He learns that the only way to escape hell is to climb onto Satan’s back and travel to the mountain of purgatory. As The Divine Comedy is told in a total of three parts, this leads Dante as well as the reader into part two: Purgatorio.
Dante’s Inferno Review
Dante’s inferno is one of the most thought provoking classics ever written. It’s a tale that speaks to the desires of humanity, and how those desires can lead to ruin. Inferno explores the origins of evil and humanity’s interaction with it. One of the first to actually write about hell in such depth, Dante Alighieri was greatly inspired by Roman Catholicism, and The Divine Comedy is his theory of the souls’ journey to God.
Inferno, and really the entirety of the Divine Comedy is not known for being an easy classic to read in an afternoon. It is layered and complex, following a soul through it’s acceptance of sin in Inferno, through its penitence in Purgatorio, and finally in it’s arrival to heaven in Paradiso. Having first read the piece in high school, I attempted to take my time with it. However, being a young reader meant that much of the deeper meaning of the text was lost on me.
Thankfully as a-slightly-more knowledgeable adult, I’ve now been able to revisit this masterpiece with fresh eyes, and develop a deeper appreciation for Inferno as well as the entirety of the Divine Comedy. I’m still grateful for my preliminary read-it gave me the opportunity to better comprehend Dante Alighieri’s imagery and subtext.
Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them; there is no third – T.S. Elliot
This is a classic for the reader who likes to be thinking about a text for days on end. If you’re searching for a profound perspective on humanity and it’s desires, this is the story for you. Inferno explores the descent into hell, understanding humanity, and finding a way to be closer to ‘God’ by gaining a true understanding of what it is to sin. Inferno in particular places its focus on these sins and the rejection and recognition of all of the sins that humanity partakes in.
Final Thoughts On Inferno
Dante Alighieri set out to explore the origins of evil and answer some life questions for the reader: What is the origin of evil? What truly is human nature? What is redemption and how does it look for each individual?
Dante wrote his poem in 13th century Florence. During this period there was political unrest from the two most powerful political houses — the Guelfs who wanted the church and the Pope in power, and the Ghibellines who wanted an Emperor and aristocratic families in power instead of the church. Dante himself had a prolific political career which leaned closer to the Guelfs beliefs than those of the Ghibellines.
While he was trying to gain favor for his political party, the rival party took over Florence and ended up exiled him. This exile lead to Dante finally finding a new place to belong and the patronage of a wealthy family. With their patronage, he reflected on his exile and wrote extensively. His writing became The Divine Comedy. If your curiosity is piqued, Professor’s Celia Easton, of Geneseo New York State University paper is a great start.
Dante’s writing has inspired countless artists over the years. His poem sparked peoples’ interest in the arts, debates, poetry, books and more, up to and including a video game that was inspired by it.
Artists like Botticelli created some amazing paintings that illustrate Dante’s poem in a way I think he would have loved. While it may not be totally safe to head to Italy to view them in person yet, you can get a glimpse of them on the Love From Tuscany website. Dante Alghieri has gone down in history as a poet who shaped many ideas for modern society. His Divine Comedy has more than stood the test of time and continues to inspire the masses to this day.
Good luck discovering Dante’s humanity!