Characters convey the author’s ideas, beliefs, and relationships, and also highlights the social norms during the time and period of the setting. Major characters in Inferno by Dante are interesting and deeply disturbing for the readers due to the depth of meanings they convey. Some of the major characters of Inferno have been discussed below.
Characters in Inferno
Dante is the protagonist of the epic poem. The author named the main character after himself to tell the story in his point of view. He states in the very first Canto that he has lost his ways. He meets Virgil who becomes his spiritual guide. Virgil guides him through the Hell and its different sections. Later, Virgil hands Dante over to his beloved, Beatrice, to guide him through the rest of the circles of Hell. Through the journey of different parts of the Hell, Dante is enlightened as he sees sinners being punished for the sins they had committed in this world. Dante also gives a taxonomic description of different sections of the Hell. There the sinners are punished according to the severity of their sins. At first, Dante feels pity. However, later, he resolves to hatred against the crimes and the sinners.
Virgil, a famous epic writer of the Roman period, helps Dante to enter the main gate of Hell. He guides him and then hands him over to Beatrice for the rest of the circles of the Hell. He cannot enter as only a baptized person can go through the rest of the sections. However, the presence of his ghost with Dante points to the representation of human rationality. He is resolute, wise, calculated, and measured in his responses to Dante. However, when he feels that he cannot further guide Dante, an angelic messenger helps him, which shows the combination of faith and reason. He is a representation of rationality and faith. Dante regards Virgil as a great master of the poetic art and his chief mentor of human reason. Therefore, his inclusion as a guide shows Dante’s dependence on the classical tradition of writing poetry.
God does not directly appear as a character directing angels. His ways and His will appear to dictate things Dante and Virgil see in different circles of the Hell. First, God is implicitly shown as the designer of Hell. Secondly, He is shown as the central force that governs it. Although the description of the first sinners seen in the first and second section of the Hell creates a harsh image of God. As the story progresses, and Dante justifies God’s ways to show that His justice and punishments are acceptable. God had given time for human beings to do good acts and only punished people when they didn’t correct their ways. He also seems to imply that God’s justice cannot be criticized. The evil committed by human beings in every way is against God’s will. Therefore, this silent appearance of God makes Him an important character.
Lucifer or Satan or Dis is shown at the bottom of the Hell. He received this punishment for rising against God to become His equal. He is shown as a giant with long arms. Dante describes his hideous appearance and states Satan as suffering for his transgression against God’s commands. Sitting among other betrayers, Satan is shown a symbolic betrayer of God. This last section of the Hell shows that Dante considers Satan’s act as the basest of the acts or sins that are unforgivable. Satan is shown helpless and cold sitting and tormenting his other followers.
Beatrice is the beloved of Dante, and she is amongst the blessed souls. She had permission to visit the different circles of Hell. She is sent by the Heaven to guide Dante through the Hell. However, it is relevant to mention here that during her lifetime, she passionately loved Dante though she married another person. Her youthful death proved devastating for Dante. Despite her brief role in Inferno, she proves a symbol of the divinely blessed soul to help Dante to move on.
Charon is taken from Greek mythology where he is stated as a ferryman. His job involves taking dead souls to cross the River Acheron and bring them to hell. In Inferno, however, he refuses to let Dante board his ferry, for Dante is alive and cannot go to Hell. When he meets Virgil and is informed of God’s will, he agrees to take both to cross the Acheron. He tells Dante that as he is a good soul and they are not allowed by Heaven to cross the river and visit Hell.
Like Charon, Minos is another prominent mythological figure. He is the king of the Crete, made by God to sit at the gate of the Second Circle in the Hell. He categorizes the sinners according to the gravity of their sins. Surprisingly, he found a place in Christianity though he is associated with the Greek underworld.
Cerberus is a mythological dog with three heads. Dante has placed him as a guard of the greedy in Hell. With a black beard and a large belly, he shows his vicious claws to attack the people who enter there. However, Virgil, a symbol of rational thinking, throws chunks toward him to keep him busy and silent and pass by him.
Minotaur is also a mythological figure that appears in the Seventh Circle of the Hell. He is a monster and the offspring of the queen of Crete. He blocks Dante and Virgil when they try to enter the Seventh Circle. However, being a half-man and half-bull, he continues his inborn habit of thrashing everything around mindlessly when Virgil speaks to him. Therefore, they pass by him silently.
Paolo and Francesca of Rimini
Paolo and Francesca were lovers in their life on the earth but were involved in lust. Dante sees them punished in the Second Circle. Francesca had had an affair with Paolo Malatesta, her husband’s brother. During a regular recitation of romantic stories, they fell in love with each and engaged in a sensual activity, which resulted in their punishment.