Inferno is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. Inferno is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is described as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth. Allegorically, the Divine Comedy represents the journey of the soul towards God, with the Inferno describing the recognition and rejection of sin. Because Dante is an educated Christian, he uses mythological references to make Hell visually appealing. Dante is guided By Virgil because he believes Virgil represents human reason, something very important to Dante. The two poets begin their journey to Purgatory by descending into the first circle of Hell. The first circle of the nine is Limbo. Limbo is “a region on the edge of hell for those who are not saved even though they did not sin” (University of Texas). In Limbo, there is a castle with seven gates which symbolize the seven virtues (historylists.org).
This castle houses the great poets Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan; it also houses great philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Heraclitus, Orpheus, and Euclid. Dante uses the allusion of Aristotle as “[a] man with honor and respect” (http://apliterature-sasd.wikispaces.com). The second circle is known as Lust. Lust consists of the “people who were overcome by lust” (University of Texas). The souls in Lust “are punished by being blown violently back and forth by strong winds, preventing them to find peace and rest” (historylists.org). The strong winds symbolize the restlessness of a person who is led by desire for another person. Dante comes across a couple, Francesca and Paolo, who were murdered because they were practicing adultery. Lust is guarded by the mythological creature Minos. Minos’ tail determines which level each and every soul belongs. Once a soul has told Minos why they are in Hell, his tail coils around his body and each coil represents a circle in Hell. Dante uses Minos as the “king of sinners” because Minos himself was surrounded by sinner during his lifetime.
The Third circle is known as Gluttony. Gluttony is where the Gluttonous sinners suffer under a cold and filthy rain. Gluttony is guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed dog. Dante “adapts him to be more monstrous by his large size and ravenous bite, an apt symbol for gluttony” (foxtwin.com). Dante uses particular names for particular people in each circle. A prime example of this would be when Dante and Virgil come across Ciacco the most gluttonous man. He warns Dante that their hometown, Florence, will be destroyed. The fourth circle, avarice and prodigality, is known for housing those who lust for material needs and those who keep their wealth all for themselves. The punishment for this circle is to carry around large boulders and bump against each other. “The boulder represents money and the weight of the boulder represents its weight in their lives” (University of Texas). Here, Virgil and Dante come across Plutus, the God of Wealth.
Dante uses Plutus to symbolize “those that squander and gather money” (foxtwin.com). The two Poets also come across Dame Fortune, the spinner of the world. As a result of her spinning wheel, things turn from good to bad. Dante uses Dame Fortune to represent chance in a human’s life. The fifth circle represents Wrath and Sullenness. “Wrath is anger that is expressed and Sullenness is and that is repressed” (University of Texas). Dante and Virgil are transported across the Styx by Phlegyas,” the infernal employee”. Phlegyas is in Hell because he set fire to the temple of Apollo. The sixth circle represents Heresy. In Heresy, the heretics lie in tombs made of iron and engulfed in flames. While in Heresy, the Poets are temporarily halted and must wait for the help from Heaven. While waiting for help, Infernal Furies taunt and curse them. The seventh circle, Violence, is divided into three kinds of violence. The first is violence against neighbors on the bloody River Phlegethon.
The river is not made of water, but of blood. Here, Virgil and Dante come across the Centaurs, the half-man and half-horse creature. The poets also come across the Minotaur. The Minotaur occasionally eats seven young men and women, in which Dante uses to symbolize violence. The second violence is against self in the Woods of Self. “The souls of those who destroyed their bodies or their substance are here to be made into thorny trees” (foxtwin.com). Since the souls destroyed their own bodies, they were denied any resemblance to a body in Hell. The leaves of these trees were painfully eaten by the Harpies. The third violence is against God, Art, and Nature on the burning sand. The eighth circle consists of the fraudulent sinners. This circle is shaped similar to an arena with “ten concentric ditches where the sinners are tortured” (foxtwin.com).
Each ditch is composed with different types of fraudulent sinners: the Panderers, the Flatterers, the Simoniacs, the Fortune Tellers, the Grafters, the Hypocrites, Thieves, and Deceivers. In circle eight, the Poets meet the complex monster Geryon. Geryon would lure in his victims and then devour them, allowing Dante to use him as fraud. Dante also uses Pope Nicholas II as a symbol as fraud. The final circle is known as The Treacherous or Cocytus. Cocytus “is the coldest place in Hell” (University of Texas). This circle consists of four smaller circles: Caina, Antenora, Ptolomea, and Judecca. Dante uses three unnamed giants to symbolize “pride and other spiritual flaws lying behind acts of treachery” (University of Texas). Dante, in his work Inferno, uses several historical and mythological figures to show his Christian devotion and Greek mythological knowledge. He also used these figures to make the poem a better read and to make modern connections of the time.