Dante’s Inferno Summary

Dante Alighieri

Dante’s Inferno

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Dante’s Inferno Summary

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Inferno is the first part of Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s narrative poem The Divine Comedy, which was completed in 1320 and first published in 1472. Written in thirty-four subsections called cantos, Inferno describes Dante’s journey through the nine circles of hell with the ghost of the Roman poet Virgil as his guide. The poem is widely considered to be Dante’s most important and influential work, and has been translated into many different languages.

At the beginning of the poem, Dante is lost in a dark wood, symbolizing sin, and is attacked by three wild beasts. He is rescued by the ghost of Virgil, who tells him that he was sent by Beatrice, Dante’s deceased lover in heaven, to help save his soul. In order to reach salvation, however, Dante must accompany Virgil on a journey through the nine circles of Hell. The two begin at the Acheron, the river leading into Hell, where a boatman named Charron ferries them down the river into Limbo, the first circle of Hell.

Limbo is mostly populated with non-Christians and people who lived before the time of Christ. Virgil lives here, along with the other ancient Greeks and Romans. Virtuous Jews and Muslims also reside here. The inhabitants of Limbo live in a peaceful green meadow and are not tormented. Dante and Virgil continue on to the second circle of Hell, where lustful sinners are blown around by a strong wind. Dante stops to talk to the spirit of Francesca da Rimini, who had committed adultery with her husband’s brother. Dante faints out of sympathy for her plight.

When he awakens, he is in the third circle of Hell, where the gluttonous sinners lie in the mud and are tormented by a cold, heavy rain. Dante speaks with a glutton, Ciacco, who prophesies the future of Florence. Dante and Virgil then continue to the fourth circle of Hell, where the avaricious and prodigal sinners are condemned to roll around heavy weights for all of eternity while berating each other for their sins. In the fifth circle of Hell, they see the wrathful and sullen sinners stuck in the muddy river Styx. The wrathful fight each other in the muddy water, while the sullen sink below it. As they are ferried down the river by the boatman Phleygas, the wrathful spirit of FilippoArgenti tries to attack Dante.

Dante and Virgil arrive at the walled city of Dis, but the demon guards will not let them pass. An angel from Heaven comes to open the gates for them, and then leaves. The two poets continue inside into the sixth circle of Hell, where heretics are tormented inside red-hot tombs. They meet the soul of FarinatadegliUberti, an Epicurean aristocrat who predicts Dante’s exile from Florence, and Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti, an old friend of Dante’s father.

As the two move on towards the seventh circle, Virgil explains to Dante the structure of Hell. It is arranged in a conical shape with the circles becoming increasingly tighter and smaller. The first six circles of Hell are devoted to the sins of over-indulgence while the seventh circle contains those found guilty of the more serious sin of violence. Those guilty of the most serious sins of fraud and treason are found in the eighth and ninth circles.

The seventh circle of Hell consists of three rings. In the first ring, tyrants and murderers are tormented in a boiling river of blood and shot with arrows by centaurs if they try to escape. In the second ring, twisted trees in a dark forest represent those who have committed suicide. In the third ring, blasphemers, sodomites, and usurers are condemned to walk around on hot sand under a rain of fire. While Dante stops to talk to some usurers, Virgil summons up the monster Geryonto take him and Dante on a frightening ride into the eighth circle, where fraudulent sinners are punished in ten different pouches representing different kinds of fraud.

In the first pouch, seducers and panders are whipped naked by demons. In the second, flatterers are stuck in excrement. In the third, simonists, or people who used bribery to obtain high positions in the church, are buried with their heads in rock and their feet held to flames. In the fourth, astrologers and magicians are punished by having their heads on backwards. In the fifth, barrators, or corrupt politicians, are thrown into a lake of hot pitch by demons. In the sixth, hypocrites must wear lead robes.

In the seventh pouch, thieves are bitten by venomous serpents and transformed into serpents themselves. In the eighth pouch, fraudulent counselors are set on fire. Here, Dante meets the ancient Greek hero Ulysses and the papal advisor Guido da Montefeltro, who advised the pope to massacre innocent people thinking that his soul would be protected by a papal pardon. In the ninth pouch, the sowers of scandal and schism are repeatedly disemboweled. In the tenth pouch, various forgers, counterfeiters, liars, and impersonators are punished.

Dante and Virgil move on to the ninth circle of Hell, which consists of four rings of traitors – the first for those who betrayed their kin, the second for those who betrayed their parties and homelands, the third for those who betrayed their guests, and the fourth for those who betrayed their benefactors. These sinners are frozen in ice to various degrees; in the fourth ring, they are completely covered in ice. At the bottom of Hell, Dante and Virgil see the giant body of the fallen angel Lucifer, who chews the souls of the three worst sinners – Judas, Brutus, and Cassius – in his mouth. They climb up Lucifer’s body until they emerge onto the surface of the Earth again.

Dante wrote Inferno as a parody of the Catholic church and its beliefs. Dante harbored a considerable amount of bitterness towards the church due to his exile from Florence by Pope Boniface VIII after a political faction led by the Pope seized control of the city in 1302. The main themes of the poem are sin, salvation, punishment, and dark humor. It is also a propaganda piece in which Dante takes jabs at his enemies and praises his friends.