On the evening of Good Friday in the year 1300, Dante is travelling through a forest, when he gets lost. In the morning, he finds a mountain and tries to climb it, but is stopped by a lion, a wolf, and a leopard. The spirit of the poet Virgil appears and offers to take him to the top of the mountain to Heaven when his love, Beatrice, is, but the way first leads through Hell. Virgil and Dante enter through the gates of Hell and see a crowd of people along the banks of the river. Virgil tells Dante these are the souls who neither sinned nor worshipped God, and are therefore rejected by both Heaven and Hell. Charon takes them across the river. The Second Circle is guarded by Minos and is the first of four rings in which souls are punished. In the Second Circle, the souls of the lustful are blown about by never-ending winds. In the Third Circle, the souls of the gluttons are soaked by heavy rain and clawed by the three-headed dog, Cerberus. Continuing downwards, they meet the entrance to the Fourth Circle, which holds the greedy. These souls must charge at each other with boulders repeatedly.
Virgil and Dante next proceed to f the city of Dis. Dis is a city within the larger region of Hell, however the demon guards refuse to open the gates. A messenger arrives from Heaven to force the gates open for Dante and Virgil. The Sixth Circle of Hell holds the Heretics, and in this circle that Dante encounters Farinata, a rival political leader. A deep valley leads into the First Ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell, where there are three inner rings. The first is where those who were violent toward others spend eternity in a river of boiling blood. The second ring is for those who were violent toward themselves, and the third ring is for those who were violent toward God. The monster Geryon transports Virgil and Dante across a great abyss to the Eighth Circle of Hell, known as Malebolge, Here, there are also many layers. The first is for the panderers and seducers, who receive lashings from whips. The second is where the flatterers must lie in a river of human feces. The simoniacs in the third layer hang upside down in baptismal fonts while their feet burn with fire.
The fourth layer is for the astrologists and diviners, who are forced to walk with their heads on backward. In the fifth layer, those who have accepted bribes are torn apart by demons. In the sixth layer, the hypocrites must walk in circles for eternity while wearing robes of lead. In the seventh layer, thieves sit in a pit of vipers and turn to vipers when bitten, and then regain their human form when they bite another thief. In the eighth layer, Dante speaks to Ulysses who will spend forever with those guilty of Spiritual Theft. In the ninth layer, those of scandal walk in a circle with wounds that open and close repeatedly. In the tenth and final layer, falsifiers suffer from plagues and diseases of all kinds. Through the Giants’ Well, Virgil and Dante proceed to the Ninth Circle of Hell, which leads to a great frozen lake named Cocytus. Virgil and Dante are picked up and placed in the lowest region of Hell by the giant Antaeus.
Like the previous Circles, the Ninth Circle of Hell also contains numerous different inner Rings. In the First Ring, those who betrayed their kin stand frozen to their necks in the lake. In the Second Ring, those who betrayed their country stand frozen to their heads. However, those who betrayed their guest are destined to spend eternity lying on their back in the frozen lake in the Third Ring. In the Fourth and final ring of the Ninth Circle of Hell, an eternity in complete icy submersion is given to those who betrayed their friends. In the center of this circle is the three-headed Lucifer. His body comes from the center of the Earth where he fell when God sent him down from Heaven. In each of Lucifer’s mouths are Judas, Cassius, and Brutus. Virgil instructs Dante to climb down Lucifer, and travel out of Hell and back onto Earth. They return to Earth on Easter morning.
In the first canto, Dante uses the dark forest to express the flaws he saw in the world around him at the time Inferno was written. Also, when Dante encounters the leopard, the lion, and the she-wolf. The leopard represents fraud, the lion represents pride, and the she-wolf represents incontinence. Dante is most affected by the presence of the she-wolf because, while incontinence is the least severe category of sin, it is the one to which he is most susceptible.
Christian symbolism is extremely prevalent throughout Inferno, and it is first introduced in the second canto. Hell is not just described as the underworld, but a place where sinners are punished for eternity. In the inscription on the gates into Hell, each part of the Trinity is represented. The “potency divine” represents God the Father, the “wisdom supreme” is Christ, and the “primal love” is the Holy Spirit. Along these same lines, the use of the Trinity is also used in the last canto, when we are introduced to the three-headed Lucifer. The three heads could represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as well.
In the fourth canto, Dante explains that Limbo is for those who have not been baptized, thus addressing one of the great moral problems of Christianity. Baptism is considered necessary to go to Heaven, but it does not seem fair that people who do not know of Christianity should suffer for something they have no control over. Dante takes care of this problem by keeping those who are not Christian in Hell, but giving them a much less painful fate by giving them eternity in Limbo.
The timeframe of Dante’s Inferno is extremely relevant in terms of Christianity. Dante begins his journey through Hell on Good Friday and emerges and returns to Earth on Easter day. This means that he was “dead” for the time period following the crucifixion of Christ, and he has risen with him.
To look further into the other religions represented in Inferno, the tower in the city of Dis that Dante refers to is a mosque, to further emphasize that anyone who does not believe in Christianity is a nonbeliever and should be in Hell. It is also interesting to look at the role Dante plays throughout Inferno. Throughout, it is clear that Beatrice has kept a careful eye on Dante’s progress and is prepared to intervene when necessary to ensure that he gets to her. In the first canto, when Dante is lost, Beatrice sends Virgil to guide him, and when Virgil and Dante are not admitted into Dis, Beatrice sent a messenger to let them in.
Without Beatrice, Dante would be lost. She is the only reason he has a chance at making it to Heaven. Dante faints and weeps numerous times, further indicating his weakness and his reliance on Beatrice and Virgil. He expresses fear of the wild beasts in the first canto and of many of the other demons in the other circles. These weaknesses emphasize how little he does for himself. He follows the path that is laid out for him by Beatrice and Virgil, and does nothing more than that. In many contexts, Dante is held as a hero, but he is really just relying on others.