Dante’s Inferno The Details of Hell
Excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. Exiled from his home, Florence, Italy. Authored The Divine Comedy, an epic poem split into three parts: The Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise) The Divine Comedy is a Religious Allegory Dante Alighieri
Allegory • “Is the discussion of one subject by disguising it as another which resembles the first in some striking way.” • Derived from Dante’s last name • In an allegory the characters, setting and plot have a hidden or symbolic meaning beyond their literal meaning. • An Allegory teaches a moral lesson.
Virgil • Roman author of The Aeneid, the national epic of Rome. • Virgil is Dante’s guide through Hell. • “forbids me to come there…” Virgil lived and died before the establishment of Christ’s teachings in Rome and cannot therefore enter Heaven.
The Inferno • Dante is the main character in The Divine Comedy. • The Inferno is a telling of Dante’s journey through the nine circles of Hell. • Dante begins his journey through Hell on Good Friday and ends on Easter Sunday. • This symbolizes the journey of Jesus, crucified on Good Friday, descended into Hell and was resurrected to live again on Easter Sunday.
The Nine Circles of Hell • Circle 1- LIMBO • Circle 2- The Lustful • Circle 3- The Gluttonous • Circle 4- Misers and Spendthrifts • Circle 5- Wrathful and Sullen • Circle 6- Heretics • Circle 7- The Violent (Murder & Suicide) • Circle 8- The Fraudulent • Circle 9- Traitors Circles 2-5 are Sins without Malice. They do not hurt others.
Canto I- Chapter 1 • The Dark Wood of Error: When Dante wrote The Divine Comedy he was going through his own mid-life crisis. • He had been abandoned and tossed aside by both church and country and was now “lost,” experiencing a crisis of faith.
“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”Canto I, lines 1-3 • The Dark Wood of Error is symbolic of Dante’s “lost faith,” and the three beasts chasing him are manifestations of Dante’s sin. • His sins are quite literally chasing him to the entrance of Hell. • The Leopard of Malice and Fraud • The Lion of Violence and Ambition • The She-wolf of Incontinence (Lack of self-restraint, especially with regard to sexual activity)
Canto III- Chapter 3 • Virgil leads Dante through the Gates of Hell. • As they pass under them Dante reads the inscription on the threshold: I am the way into the City of Woe. I am the way to a Forsaken People. I am the way into eternal sorrow. • Who do you think wrote this inscription?
Abandon all hope ye who enter here. • This is the end of the fateful inscription each of the damned would read as they entered into the gates of Hell. • How would you feel if these words were inscribed above the classroom door on your first day of classes next year?
The Ferryman • In the entrance to Circle 1 the dead must pay the Ferryman, Charon, to cross the River Acheron. The souls of the damned are in a hurry to cross the river and appear before Minos for judgment. This is the beginning of their punishment, the desperate need to be punished despite their despair at being in Hell. • Charon does not want to let Dante Pass because he is alive and does not belong in Hell.
Circle I- LIMBO • Fallen Angels- race endlessly after a blank flag; These are the fallen angels who took no stand for or against the rebellious angels during the War in Heaven between Lucifer and God. • They are now forced to run after a black banner or flag because they chose no banner to support in the war of Heaven. The race after the flag without stopping for eternity.
Also in Circle I THE INNOCENT SOULS: • Blameless but un-baptized babies • Old Testament patriarchs (Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc.) • Great Pagan and Roman poets and philosophers comfortable (living in a castle) but separate forever from God. • Though they are in Hell, these souls live in relative comfort. The only sin they committed was not being baptized as a Christian.
Canto V • Virgil and Dante leave Limbo and moves into the 2nd Circle. Here is where Dante encounters those who suffer the Sins of LUST and PHYSICAL PLEASURE • Dante sees many historically famous lovers during his time here. • Dante even gets to speak with a couple who had recently died in his time and went to hell for their sins. • Francesca and Paolo tell Dante that they were seduced by reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, and became lovers. Subsequently they were surprised and murdered by Francesca’s husband before they were able to repent.
Circle II- The Lustful • The second circle is the real beginning of hell. Here we see a giant tornado, sinners are whirled by winds as in life they were helpless in tempests of passion. • Paolo and Francesca go swirling by in Canto 5. They were murdered before they could repent carnal courtly love as sin. (Dido, Cleopatra, Anthony and Achilles are all also here) • These are all sinners of LUST and CARNAL/SEXUAL LOVE
Other Historic Lovers in Circle 2 • Dido – Queen of Carthage/Lover of Aeneas • Cleopatra- Queen of Egypt/Lover of Mark Anthony • Helen- Princess of Greece/Troy/Lover of Paris • Polyxena- Princess of Troy/Lover of Achilles • Isolde- Princess of Ireland/Lover of Tristan These lovers and more have been swept up in the Tornado of their passion endlessly reaching for each other, yet eternally kept apart by the winds of Hell.
Circle III- The Gluttonous • These are the sinners of EXCESS. • People who eat too much, take too many drugs, drink too much… • This circle is guarded by Cerberus (from Greek Mythology, he is the 3 headed dog who guarded the entrance to the Greek Underworld) • In Dante’s Inferno the 3 headed dog continuously chews on the sinners who are stuck in clumps of mud. • Gluttons who feasted away their lives now lie like pigs in the mud while the three headed dog takes him time eating them- forever.
Circle IV- Misers and Spendthrifts • Misers are generally cheap old men who hoard their money, like Ebenezer Scrooge. • Spendthrifts are people who spend too much money. • Pluto, Roman god of riches, guards the entrance to the fourth circle. • Sinners take turns rolling stones at each other to crash against one another- FOREVER.
Circle V- Wrathful and Sullen • The Wrathful sought Revenge in life while the Sullen were silently angry and made others miserable with that anger. • The Styx (river of hate) forms a swamp holding the openly wrathful who strike and bite one another; the sullen lie under the surface of the marsh, just as their silent anger lay hidden during their lives. • Dante wrote The Divine Comedy as a form of revenge against those that would send him into exile; this was his sin, which is why revenge is not one of the more extremely punished sins.
Circle VI- The Heretics • Heretics choose their own opinions instead of following the teachings of the Church. • Heretics are anyone who commits any crime against the church. They get to spend eternity set on fire and then buried alive. Their bodies forever burning in their graves. • Atheists, or those who don’t believe in God, are also here.
Circle VII- Violence • Violent Sinners are divided into 3 sub-circles: • Violent against Neighbors • Violent against Self • Violent against God • First Ring: Violence against others; includes murderers and robbers - NOTE: Dante does not really distinguish between lives and property; stealing a life is the same to Dante as stealing someone’s property. The damned are submerged in the Phlegethon – the river of blood, drowning in the blood of all of Hell’s sinners.
Second Ring: Violence against themselves - suicides (wasted their bodies) and squanderers (wasted their goods) • Suicides (with harpies) - Harpies in Greek Mythology steal anything, so here they symbolize stealing away of the souls by suicides, they puck out the eyes of their victims. Eyes are the gateway to the soul. • Third Ring: Violence against God - blasphemy and denial; the worst kind of violence in Dante's world-view. Blasphemy can be anything- from denouncing God before a crowd of people to saying the Lord’s name in vain.
Monsters as Guards • Yet another Greek Mythological reference mentioned in The Inferno is the character of Chiron – the centaur teacher of Hercules. • Warrior-centaurs patrol this entire circle; they are half man, half horse and easily angered; they patrol & torture those who killed others violently.
Circle VIII- Fraud • There are ten different sub-circles of Fraud. • 1.Panderers/Seducers (those who tell you what you want to hear to get something from you) • 2.Flatterers • 3.Simoniacs (sell church favor) • 4.Fortunetellers • 5.Grafters (sell political favor) • 6.Hypocrites • 7.Thieves • 8.Evil Counselors • 9.Sowers of Discord • 10.Falsifiers (Alchemists & Counterfeiters)
The Fraud Monster- a reference to the Serpent Archetype • The Circle of Fraud starts at the base of an abyss, so Dante and Virgil must descend on the back of the Fraud Monster, Geryon. • Geryon has a pleasant face and a snake-like body, to symbolize the pleasant first appearance of fraud and its twisted snake-like dealings. • This is very much like the pleasant first appearance of the snake in the Garden of Eden as the friend and advisor of Eve. The snake gives a false appearance in order to trick Eve into eating the apple.
Circle IX- Traitors • Dante was betrayed by his countrymen and fellow politicians. This betrayal sent him into exile which is why betrayal is considered the most serious sin in Dante’s version of Hell. • The 9th Circle of hell consists of a frozen lake of ice; Satan is frozen from the shoulders down at the center. Satan’s wings continuously flap as he tries to get free from his frozen jail. The wind created by his wings is what actually freezes the lake and makes the rest of the circle cold. • In essence, he is trapping himself.
Canto XXXIV (34) • “On march the banners of the King of Hell,” my Master said. “Torward us. Look straight ahead: can you make him out at the core of the frozen shell?” • As Canto XXXIV begins Virgil is leading Dante down into the very last circle of Hell.
Satan • Satan has three faces. • In each mouth is a historic betrayer eternally being chewed on. • In mouth 1 and mouth 2 are Brutus and Cassius the assassinators of Julius Caesar (considered the greatest Roman leader who sacrificed his life for his country.) • In Mouth 3 is Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus Christ to his enemies. Christ was put to death sacrificing his life for his people.
They observe that Satan has three faces. This is a gross parody of the Catholic Holy Trinity. • Dante and Virgil have to actually climb around Satan in order to reach the exit of Hell. • This is the end of Dante’s journey through Hell. Virgil must leave him at the bottom of the mountain of Purgatory to climb up and out of Hell alone.
The final Circle of Hell is divided into 4 sub circles: • Traitors to Kindred or family- Caina named after Cain, the first murderer of a kinsman • Traitors to Country - Antenora; named after the Trojan Antenor who in the Middle Ages was believed to have betrayed Troy to the Greeks. • Traitors to Guests - Ptolomea, named after Ptolemy, a captain of Jericho who invited guests to a banquet and then murdered them while they were eating.
Traitors to Masters (or benefactors) • - Judecca is where Satan is munching on Judas, Cassius and Brutus • Judecca is named for Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ. Also includes Cassius and Brutus who betrayed Julius Caesar. This puts together the betrayal of masters of Church and State. • The frozen center contains Satan - total absence of goodness; absolute distance from God; Virgil and Dante climb down Satan's side to the center of the earth; exit Hell, and start climbing up toward Purgatory, but that's another story.
The Image of Stars • As a part of the epic’s symbolism, Dante ends each of the three parts of The Divine Comedy with the word “stars.” • Every conclusion of the upward soul is toward the stars, God’s shining symbols of hope and virtue. • At the end of each part in The Divine Comedy Dante also travels upward in pursuit of his journey to salvation. • Further symbolism can be found in the mythological names of the constellations. Further emphasizing the Greek/Roman mythological influences in the work.