Introduction to Inferno

Inferno is a term used for Hell. It is an important part of Dante’s epic, Divine Comedy that is followed by two more books, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. In this book, readers go through Dante’s journey into hell as guided by the Roman master, Virgil. The description of Hell includes the nine circles that Dante visits with Virgil, while he travels to meet his beloved, Beatrice. However, at some point, Virgil cannot enter because he is a pagan. An allegorical poem, Inferno shows his imaginary journey through Hell.

Summary of Inferno

The story of Dante Alighieri’s journey into Hell starts on Good Friday in the year 1300. He narrates his story about passing through a dark wood when he loses his way forward and wanders in the forest. He sees the sun shining on the mountains and tries to climb them but three fierce beasts of prey block his way to the top. Terrified, Dante decides to turn around and leave but sees the ghost of his favorite Roman poet, Virgil. When he inquires about the ghost’s reason for his appearance at this juncture, the poet speaks that he has come to guide him and take him to the peak from where they would reach Heaven. Dante comes to know that his beloved, Beatrice, is waiting for him there. Virgil also discloses that Beatrice, along with two other pious ladies living in Heaven, has directed Virgil to come to his aid.

When both masters start their journey, Dante sees the words written on the main gate of Hell as a reminder that only pessimists stay there. When they pass through the outskirts, they come across many souls of the people, who have not chosen to commit good or evil. Hornets start chasing them at that place. A few moments later Charon, a ferryman, appears to them. Charon guides them through the Acheron, a river on the border of Hell, and takes them to Limbo, the first circle where pagans reside. Virgil and several other pre-Christ sages live in that part. Dante is too eager to go on the journey. He meets all of them and passes through the second circle where the lusty sinners are facing a terrible storm when Minos throws them away, while he is standing at the entry of the circle. There, Dante meets Francesca, the popular lady filled with lust. She faces punishment for having developed a love affair with her husband’s brother, Paolo da Rimini.

When they reach the third circle of Hell, they see the Gluttonous lying in the filth, while the fourth circle is full of avaricious sinners, fighting among themselves with boulders. The fifth circle shows them the Styx, the river, which comprises the Wrathful, struggling to pass their time as they are to live there, while the Sullen is living beneath the water. Dante sees his former political opponent, Flippo Argenti, suffering from this fate in that circle.

When both, the guide and the disciple, move to Dis, the Hell city, the guard demons stop Virgil from entering the city and ask them to bring another guide because he is a pagan. Thus, Dante enters the circle of the Heretics where he meets Farinata, his opponent. Dante sees that even this circle has several rings in which the first comprises the violent persons, while the second comprises persons having committed suicide where Dante speaks to several of his acquaintances. After this, they meet several more people such as anti-God fighters, his own mentor, Brunetto Latini, the Sodomites, and the Usurers.

Following this, they enter the eighth circle and its different pockets. In the first pocket, they see the Panderers and Seducers, while the second houses the Flatterers. The third comprises the Simoniacs, while the Fourth is housing the Diviners. The fifth houses the Barrators, while the sixth is full of hypocrites. Similarly, the seventh has Thieves in it. After having communicated with different sufferers and sinners, they enter the eighth pocket of this circle where they meet Ulysses and talk to him about his punishment after which they meet the Sowers of Scandals in the ninth and the Falsifiers in the tenth.

After completing their round of the eighth circle and its different pockets, both enter the ninth circle, leading to the frozen lake of Cocytus where they reach the bottom through Antaeus, a giant. In the first circle, both meet the people who betrayed their relatives and in the second they meet the traitors. Similarly, they meet those having betrayed their guests, while in the next they meet the ones having betrayed their benefactors. After having seen all the betrayers, they soon meet Lucifer, having three heads, chewing the greatest sinners. When they see his high tufts, they ride to the Lethe, the river of oblivion from where they come back to the Earth after completing their journey to Hell.

Major Themes in Inferno

  1. Punishment of Sins: The entire journey of Dante to Hell shows it as the document intended to pinpoint sinners and specific sentences they are given in different circles and different pockets in Hell. God has graded them and then punished them according to the severity of their deeds. For example, they see King Mino’s grading and throwing the sinners according to the severity of their sins. In the next circles, different people such as the persons having committed acts of violence in the name of religion, nationalism, region, or have betrayed the people, or have committed other sins. Although Virgil does not speak except when guidance is imperative, it seems that the harsh punishment has rather quietened him. The division of chambers, circles, pockets, and then gradation and classification of the sinners show Dante’s concept of punishment as per his Christian ethical framework.
  2. Love: Inferno shows the theme of love in two aspects. The first one is the nature of divine love and the second is the earthly love that leads to divine love. The argument of Dante is that God is also love and that God has created Hell and Heaven because of His love for his creatures and chosen people. The second love is Dante and Beatrice whom he wishes to meet in Heaven as he believes her to be there. His argument is that his earthly love has led him to divine love.
  3. Human Rationality: The theme of human rationality emerges with the presence of Virgil who is the symbol of this rational thinking along with the line of the ancient philosophers and poets that they meet when entering Hell. The other thing is that Dante also shows the logic behind the punishment of the sinners after their classification into different pockets in different circles of Hell. It is because he thinks that humans commit sins where they find a chance, and hence they are to face the punishment according to their sins.
  4. Language: One of the secondary thematic strands of Inferno is the use of human language and its role in rational thinking and reasoning. Their visits to different circles and conversations with different sinners also show how language is used to convey one’s perspective. The truth about this usage of language emerges when Dante argues that his pen does not seem empowered to picture the entire scene of the punishments awarded to the sinners in Hell.
  5. Presentation: The description of Hell by Dante also is a part to prove that Hell exists physically with gates, gatekeepers, walls, mentions, pockets, and circles. The division of the main building of Hell seems an arena with several circles that have smaller pockets where sinners face their punishment as per the gravity of their sins. This includes the physical situation of the sinners how they face suffering in their circles and the physical environment in which Dante is following his mentor, Virgil.
  6. Evil: Dante sheds light on the self-devised taxonomy of evil or sins. He explores the nature of sin, and isolates sinners based on the severity of sin, explores the nature of sin. He also describes the way they are being punished such as the punishments for betraying, bribery, murders, blasphemy, and so on. Hence, murderers are kept in the sixth circle of Hell while bribery has been placed in the eighth circle. It is the realization of the Christian values that Dante has prioritized this ethical system. It also combines with God’s creation and will to punish or reward..
  7. Storytelling: Inferno also presents Dante’s skill of storytelling through a Christian mindset. The expulsion of Virgil after the first section shows that only devout and good Christians can enter Purgatorio or Paradiso beyond Hell and that it is the story of the Christian religious and moral framework.
  8. Poetic Profession: Inferno also highlights Dante’s desire to show the readers that poetry is a high calling and is used to praise God and Jesus. His own status through Virgil, the pagan roman, shows his desire to render the poetic recitation of his belief to show its superiority over the Romain faith and its poetic rendering by the masters.
  9. Self-Presentation: Self-presentation is another major theme of Inferno. Here Dante presents himself as a common person, having God’s fear and Christian thinking as the center of his attention.

Major Characters in Inferno

  1. Dante Alighieri: Dante is the narrator in the story of Hell but also the main character or the protagonist. Through his experience, he describes what he witnesses, including the events and in the case of Dante, involved in all the events as he visits different circles and pockets in those circles. He also talks to Virgil, King Minos, and several other characters to come to know the reason for their punishments. The description of the pockets, circles and the sinners graded by the severity of their sins shows that Dante gets the impression that he is a devout Christian and poet. His expression of wonder, terror, fear, religious devoutness, superiority over Virgil, and power to move beyond Hell through his beloved Beatrice shows his participation in the events.
  2. Virgil: Virgil is considered Dante’s ancient mentor, a pagan Roman, and is the second major character of Inferno as he accompanies Dante during his entry as well as visits to the different circles of Hell. However, it is interesting that Dante states that Virgil cannot enter Hell and other areas as he’s not a Christian. So, Virgil hands him over to Beatrice, his beloved, who is to guide him through the rest of the sections. However, they are not in their physical form, for it is their souls that are traveling through Hell. Virgil, in fact, represents human rationality and mentorship here.
  3. God: God is conspicuous through His omnipresence despite physical absence. When Dante thinks of entering Hell, God appears with him all the time. However, once he enters Hell with Virgil, he sees Him as Hell’s designer, its Ruler, and Author. Wherever Dante goes, he sees God everywhere through different sinners, their pockets where they face punishment, different circles of Hell, different animals, beasts, and types of punishments. Dante presents justifications for the punishments being awarded to the sinners. He validates that God is punishing sinners for disobeying His ways.
  4. Satan: Lucifer or Satan meets Dante in the last pit of Hell, facing his sentence for raising the flag of anti-God rebellion. The poet presents his physical figure as a giant person with huge arms. Shown as a symbol of transgression, Dante paints his dismal picture of undergoing torments for his sins of rebellion.
  5. Beatrice: Dante’s beloved, Beatrice, is a virtuous lady. Later she becomes his mentor after Virgil does not win permission to continue in the other circle. She guides him through the rest of the sections that Virgil could not enter. Although her love for Dante has become proverbial, she married some other person in her life on the earth. Yet Dante presents her as a divine figure whom God has blessed.
  6. Charon: Charon is borrowed character from Greek myths. He is significant because of his job of assisting the souls in crossing the river Acheron. His role regarding Dante is interesting as he refuses first and accepts their request when Virgil appears.
  7. Minos: The significance of King Minos lies in his mythological role of classifying sinners following their punishments awarded to them on account of the gravity of their sins.
  8. Cerberus: The significance of Cerberus lies in his role as the guard in Hell. His terrifying physical figure and vicious nature become clear through his aggressiveness.
  9. The Minotaur: Minotaur’s responsibility is of punishing the sinners in the seventh circle. He also blocks Dante and Virgil from going further.

Writing Style of Inferno

Similar to other epics, this part, Inferno, of Divine Comedy, demonstrates the usual epic style having grandeur, formality, elevation, and metrical pattern. The translation in elevated style also shows its original poetic grandeur in Italian. This is also clear from its use of diction. In terms of literary devices, Dante has sparingly used invocation, similes, metaphors, and personifications.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in Inferno

  1. Action: The main action of Inferno comprises the story of Dante and Virgil and their visit to Hell. The rising action occurs when Dante passes through the sixth and the eighth circle. The falling action occurs when he reaches the end of Hell.
  2. Anaphora: The following sentences show anaphora. For example,
    i. A man must stand in fear of just those things
    that truly have the power to do us harm,
    of nothing else, for nothing else is fearsome. (Canto 2)
    ii. When she had finished reasoning, she turned
    her shining eyes away, and there were tears
    iii. How eager then I was to come to you!
    And I have come to you just as she wished,
    and I have freed you from the beast that stood
    blocking the quick way up the mount of bliss. (Canto 2)
    iv. “Tell me, my teacher, tell me, 0 my master,”
    I began (wishing to have confirmed by him
    the teachings of unerring Christian doctrine). (Canto 4)
    v. Whatever pleases you to hear or speak
    we will hear and we will speak about with you
    as long as the wind, here where we are, is silent. (Canto 5)
    These examples show the repetitious use of “nothing else”, “I have”, “I am” , “Tell me” and “we will.”
  3. Allusions: This section of Divine Comedy shows the use of allusions,
    i. And from this journey you celebrate in verse,
    Aeneas learned those things that were to bring
    victory for him, and for Rome, the Papal seat;
    then later the Chosen Vessel, Paul, ascended
    to ring back confirmation of that faith
    which is the first step on salvation’s road. (Canto 2)
    ii. But why am I to go? Who allows me to?
    I am not Aeneas, I am not Paul,
    neither I nor any man wou!d think me worthy; (Canto 2)
    iii. They were cursing God, cursing their own parents,
    the human race, the time, the place, the seed
    of their beginning, and their day of birth. (Canto 3)
    iv. He took from us the shade of our first parent,
    of Abel, his good son, of Noah, too,
    and of obedient Moses, who made the laws. (Canto 4)
    v. Abram, the Patriarch, David the King,
    Israel with his father and his children,
    with Rachel, whom he worked so hard to win. (Canto 4)
    These examples show the use of allusions such as Rome, Papal Seat, Aeneas, Paul, God, Adam and Eve, David the King, and Rachel.
  4. Antagonist: Satan is the antagonist of Inferno as he and his followers are facing the wrath of God.
  5. Conflict: Inferno shows both internal as well as external conflict. The external conflict is going on between Dante and different entities when entering Hell and then Dante and beasts that block his way. The internal or mental conflict, on the other hand, is going on in Dante’s mind about Virgil, about his soul, and his place in the divine scheme of things.
  6. Characters: Inferno, shows dynamic as well as static characters. Dante, the poet, is a dynamic character as he witnesses a considerable transformation in his behavior and actions through this section of the epic. However, all other characters are static characters as they are performing their allotted roles according to the divine scheme of things.
  7. Eulogy: The following examples show the use of eulogy,
    i. “0 light and honor of the other poets,
    may my long years of study, and that deep love
    that made me search your verses, help me now!
    You arc my teacher, the first of all my authors,
    and you alone the one from whom I took
    the noble style that was to bring me honor. (Canto 1)
    ii. There people were whose eyes were calm and grave,
    whose bearing told of great authority;
    seldom they spoke and always quietly. (Canto 4)
    These verses from different cantos show the use of eulogy, praising the sages of antiquity.
  8. Hyperbole: The following examples show the use of hyperboles,
    i. Down there, to judge only by what I heard,
    there were no wails but just the sounds of sighs
    rising and trembling through the timeless air. (Canto 4)
    ii. For this defect, and for no other guilt,
    we here are lost. In this alone we suffer:
    cut off from hope, we live on in desire.” (Canto 4)
    iii. “The first of those whose story you should know, “
    my master wasted no time answering,
    “was empress over lands of many tongues; (Canto 5)
    These examples exaggerate things such as timeless air, living in one’s desire, and lands of many tongues.
  9. Imagery: The following examples show the use of imagery,
    i. And so I looked and saw a kind of banner
    rushing ahead, whirling with aimless speed
    as though it would not ever take a stand;
    behind it an interminable train
    of souls pressed on, so many that I wondered
    how death could have undone so great a number. (Canto 3)
    ii. These words brought silence to the woolly cheeks
    of the ancient steersman of the livid marsh,
    whose eyes were set in glowing wheels of fire. (Canto 3)
    iii. When the winds bent their course in our direction
    I raised my voice to them, “0 wearied souls,
    come speak with us if it be not forbidden. “
    As doves, called by desire to return
    to their sweet nest, with wings outstretched and poised,
    float downward through the air, guided by their will, (Canto 5)
    These sentences show images of movement, sight, feeling, and color.
  10. Invocation: The following sentences show the example of invocation,
    i. 0 Muses! 0 high genius! Help me now!
    0 memory that wrote down what I saw,
    here your true excellence shall be revealed! (Canto 2)
    The poet has used invocation quite late in the poem instead of using it in the opening lines like that of Milton.
  11. Metaphor: Following sentences have metaphors,
    i. And then only did terror start subsiding
    in my heart’s lake, which rose to heights of fear
    that night I spent in deepest desperation. (Canto1)
    ii. She is by nature so perverse and vicious,
    her craving belly is never satisfied,
    still hungering for food the more she eats. (Canto 1)
    iii. said reassuringly: “Do not let fear
    defeat you, for whatever be his power,
    he cannot stop our journey down this rock.” (Canto 7)
    These examples show that things are compared directly in the novel such as the first one shows him comparing his heart to a lake, the second shows belly has been compared to a person, and the third one shows fear compared to a competitor.
  12. Mood: Inferno shows an elevated but very formal and theological mood in the very beginning that continues until the end of this section of the epic.
  13. Motif: Most important motifs of this section, Inferno, are nakedness, vision, punishments, sins, and death.
  14. Narrator: This section, Inferno, is narrated by a first-person narrator, who happens to be the poet, Dante Alighieri.
  15. Oxymoron: The below statements show the example of an oxymoron,
    i. They arc mixed with that repulsive choir of angels
    neither faithful nor unfaithful to their God,
    who undecided stood but for themselves. (Canto 3)
    ii. Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out,
    but even Hell itself would not receive them,
    for fear the damned might glory over them. “ (Canto 3)
    Both of these examples show contradictory terms used with each other such as faithful unfaithful and damned glory.
  16. Paradox: This part of the epic shows the use of paradox in the following sentences,
    i. …and so, if I should undertake the journey,
    I fear it might turn out an act of folly you are wise,
    you see more than my words express. (Canto 2)
    ii. As one who unwills what he willed, will change
    his purpose with some new second thought,
    completely quitting what he first had started. (Canto 2)
    iii. Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out,
    but even Hell itself would not receive them,
    for fear the damned might glory over them.” (Canto 3)
    iv. And when the voice was silent and all was quiet
    I saw four mighty shades approaching us,
    their faces showing neither joy nor sorrow. (Canto 4)
    These examples show contradictory ideas presented in the verses such as the first one shows foolishness and wisdom, the second shows purpose and will, the third shows Heaven and Hell and the last one shows silence and voice put together in the same verses.
  17. Personification: The below sentences show examples of personifications,
    i. …the day Divine Love set their beauty turning;
    so the hour and sweet season of creation
    encouraged me to think I could get past. (Canto 1)
    ii. She is by nature so perverse and vicious,
    her craving belly is never satisfied,
    still hungering for food the more she eats. (Canto 1)
    iii. The day was fading and the darkening air
    was releasing all the creatures on our earth
    from their daily tasks, and I, one man alone. (Canto 2)
    iv. you and the words you spoke have moved my heart
    with such desire to continue onward
    that now I have returned to my first purpose. (Canto 2)
    v. He answered me, speaking with experience:
    “Now here you must leave all distrust behind;
    let all your cowardice die on this spot. (Canto 3)
    These examples show as if season, belly, day, air, words, and cowardice have life and emotions of their own.
  18. Repetition: The below statements are perfect examples for repetition,
    i. So what is wrong? Why, why do you delay?
    Why are. you such a coward in your heart,
    why aren’t you bold and free of all your fear. (Canto 2)
    iii. These wretches, who had never truly lived,
    went naked, and were stung and stung again
    by the hornets and the wasps that circled them. (Canto 3)
    iv. They were cursing God, cursing their own parents,
    the human race, the time, the place, the seed
    of their beginning, and their day of birth. (Canto 3)
    v. “Tell me, my teacher, tell me, 0 my master,”
    I began (wishing to have confirmed by him
    the teachings of unerring Christian doctrine). (Canto 4)
    These examples show repetitions of different things and ideas such as “why”, “I am”, “stung”, “cursing” and “tell me.”
  19. Rhetorical Questions: This section shows the use of rhetorical questions at several places. For example,
    i. But why am I to go? Who allows me to?
    I am not Aeneas, I am not Paul,
    neither I nor any man wou’d think me worthy; (Canto 2)
    ii. So what is wrong? Why, why do you delay?
    Why are. you such a coward in your heart,
    why aren’t you bold and free of all your fear. (Canto 2)
    This example shows the use of rhetorical questions posed but different characters not to elicit answers but to stress upon the underlined idea.
  20. Setting: The setting of this section, Inferno, is Hell and its different circles.
  21. Simile: The below sentences are good examples of simile,
    i. And then only did terror start subsiding
    in my heart’s lake, which rose to heights of fear
    that night I spent in deepest desperation.
    Just as a swimmer, still with panting breath,
    now safe upon the shore, out of the deep,
    might turn for one last look at the dangerous waters. (Canto 1)
    ii. my wilted strength began to bloom within me,
    and such warm courage flowed into my heart
    that I spoke like a man set free of fear. (Canto 2)
    iii. We did not stop our journey while he spoke,
    but continued on our way along the woods-
    1 say the woods, for souls were thick as trees.
    iv. And just like cranes in flight, chanting their lays,
    stretching an endless line in their formation,
    I saw approaching, crying their laments. (Canto 5)
    These similes show that things have been compared with the use of “as” and “like” such as the first shows fear compared to a swimmer, the second shows strength compared to courage, and the third shows souls compared to trees, and cranes.