Dante’s Iinferno Summary

Born in May 1265, Dante Alighieri is deemed as the greatest lyric poet in Italy. In this regard, his urbane pieces of literature helped him gain a lot of popularity in the Florentine city. “The Inferno” is among the three canticles of “The Comedy.” The Inferno has thirty-three cantos whose settings vary. For instance, Canto 1 setting is in a dark wood on the April 8, 1300, just before Good Friday. Dante presents various levels of hell in his poem where he illustrates that the deeper the level, the more the punishment.

The manner in which the dark woods are characterized in the poem exemplifies different behaviors of humans to reach to the light. To help the reader visualize the fictional structure of Hell and the punishment of sinner, the author has created a standardized pattern of entrance to Hell, the observations as well as the contact with the sinners.

Dante put a lot of emphasis on an intense sight of Hell by traveling through its many levels. This journey is what establishes the poem’s major plot. In his journey, Dante finds himself in a dark forest, having wandered from the straight path. He is bewildered and desires to get out of the dark woods (Pettingell 33). It is obvious that the author does not tell us exactly how he found himself in the dark woods.

This shows that as human beings, habits get us in dark places little by little. In essence, individuals do not commit some evil willingly and often find themselves wondering how they got themselves there. Through this, the question of what happened to make one the kind of person he os she is brood over. For instance, most sex workers do not choose the occupation as their career of choice. The author used the three beasts, a leopard, a lion and a she-wolf to symbolize the dark sides of life.

In essence, the she-wolf is an interpretation of fraud; the leopard symbolizes incontinence and the lion violence which are sinful traits in humans. Scared of the wild beasts, Dante turns back only to see a human figure who not only shows him a different path to the hilltop but also volunteers to be his guide through his journey in Hell. Dante portrays himself as a character who speaks from an idiosyncratic perception. He establishes a strong tone to be consciousness of his emotions that enables him to differentiate between light and dark. Through this, he showed that while humans often fear their sinful and dark desires, they also strive for the hope of light which is often the key to their spiritual journey.

The author’s encounter with the human figure (Virgil) who not only offers to be his guide through his journey in Hell but also shows him an alternative route to the illuminating hilltop. The relationship between Virgil and Dante gives a unique case of loving homage (Gransden and Harrison 98). Virgil gives a clear insight that the author fears the dark side of life and the sinful humanly desires in him.

However, at the same time, he pursues the hope of seeing the light which is very vital in his spiritual journey. It is interesting that in a Christian setting, the mentor figure is a pagan. The author chose Virgil as his guide because it meant a lot to him in his time and place. The two had a political connection especially with the infamous killing of Turnus and the ones surrounding Dante (Kristal 476). Virgil being a pre-Christian pagan and the author being a universal experience, ingratiates him to Dante because his shortcomings of being far from perfect indicated that he was human, just like the author. Virgil can thus be perceived as a representation of the prototypes, conflicts between noble and malicious honor, beliefs as well as religiousness.

The author is afraid and hesitant to enter Hell because of the sign at the gate whose message was that people who enter the Inferno are forever doomed to stay (Ciardi 36). Therefore, the unabashed sinners would face unending punishment. From mythology, human beings ate the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and ought to use this intellect to do right and repent their sins. The sinners in the Inferno show humans who did not use their intellect to repent while they were still alive.

Throughout the poem, the author has italicized the Italian word “contrapasso.” Italian sonnets have a long tradition and with close reading one can recognize the form and know the meaning. For instance, contrapasso refers to the appropriate punishment for sin. While the word contrapasso is seen over and over in “the Inferno,” it is not Dante’s invention, but in his hands, it works simultaneously as an instrument of justice and a powerful narrative device (Pertile 63-64).

The journey through the Inferno is characterized by smaller circles as Virgil, and the author further goes down. This shows that more sinner are punished in the bigger circles and vice versa. The author uses fiction to identify some of the people who were found in the Limbo and divides them into three groups, the heroes and heroines, the philosophers and the naturalists.


The Inferno uses several literally devices to emphasize and intensify the message the author intended to pass. The author chose Virgil as his guide because the two had political connections. The contrast between the light and dark at the dark woods symbolizes the sinful human nature and the urge to pursue repentance respectively.

The author has also created a strong tone and a scary mood about Hell. From the poem stanzas are in three-line showing that numbers were very important to the author with the three lines representing The Trinity.

Works Cited

Ciardi, John. “Dante’s Inferno.” (1954).
Gransden, Karl W, and S J. Harrison. Vergil, the Aeneid: A Student Guide. Cambridge [u.a.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004. ].
Kristal, E. (2012). What Is, Is Not: Dante in Tomás Eloy Martínez’s Purgatorio. Bulletin Of Latin American Research, 31(4), 473-484. doi:10.1111/j.1470-9856.2012.00740.
Pertile, Lino. “Dante.” Cambridge History of Italian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Pettingell, Phoebe. “To Hell or Heaven and Back.” New Leader, vol. 84, no. 2, Mar/Apr2001, p. 32. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true=bth=4331874=ehost-live.

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