The Divine Comedy

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The poet Dante shown holding a copy of the Divine Comedy, next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory and the city of Florence, with the spheres of Heaven above, in Michelino's fresco

The Divine Comedy is an epic poem (a poem that is very long, like a story) written by Dante Alighieri. It is about a trip through the afterlife. The poem has three parts: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise, or Heaven).

Inferno is the most famous section of the poem. The poem on the surface,is about the travels of Dante's personal journey through Christian hell, purgatory, and heaven ,but it also is an allegory (a fictitious tale with moral values) of the soul's journey to God.

Note that "comedy" does not mean the poem is funny, but more like not ending with a tragic ending.

Inferno[change | edit source]

Gustave Doré's eng ravings illustrated the Divine Comedy (1861–1868); here, Dante is lost in Canto 1 of the Inferno.


The poem begins on Maundy Thursday,when Dante,at 35 years old (half the bibilical age limit of 70),is lost in a forest surrounding a mountain symbolising sin.

Aware that the sun is setting,and he would soon lose his way,Dante tries to leave the forest,but is assaulted by a leopard ,a lion ,and a she-wolf.

William Blake: Inferno, Canto I, 1-90. Virgil saving Dante from the three beasts.


Fortunately,the ghost of Virgil the Roman poet saves him,and he later explains that he is sent by Dante's sweetheart Beatrice to help him. He also explains that while Dante cannot escape the three beasts,he would have to take another path,which is via Hell,Purgatory,and Heaven itself,(called "St Peter's Portal"). Unfortunately,Virgil cannot enter Heaven as he is a pagan,so he has to hand the duty of guiding Dante via Heaven to Beatrice.

Dante then claims he is weak and has poor eyesight,but Virgil assures him St. Lucia would taake care of that.

Finally convinced,Dante follows his guide into the forest.

Overview and Vestibule of Hell[change | edit source]

William Blake: Inferno, Canto III, 1-21. The inscription over Hell's gate

First circle (Limbo)[change | edit source]

William Blake: Inferno, Canto IV, 89-95, Homer and the ancient poets.

Souls that did not accept Christ are here,and they live in a large castle with lawns.This includes atheists, pagans(like Virgil), and the unbaptized.They did not actively sin, but they could not enter Heaven because of their lack of faith and even Hell would not allow them to enter very far.

The punishment for the souls is not physical, but that they have no hope of seeing Christ, so they are mentally punished.

Between the first and second circles, souls are assigned their place by the serpentine Minos, who wraps his tail around his legs a corresponding number of times,and forces them to descend to their appropiate circle.

Second circle (Lust)[change | edit source]

William Blake: Inferno, Canto V, 37-138, The Whirlwind of Lovers; Francesca da Rimini.

In this circle are souls who succumb to lust. They are the first ones to be truly punished in Hell. These souls are blown around in a giant storm which will last forever. This symbolizes the power of lust to blow one about aimlessly.

Third circle (Gluttony)[change | edit source]

The third circle, as illustrated by Stradanus

This circle is guarded by Cerberus the hellhound called "the great worm" by Dante. (Cerebus attacks the duo,but is placated when Virgil feeds him lumps of earth),so the duo can pass through the third circle safely.

The gluttons are punished here, lying in cold mud. While in life they were provided with warmth and comfort from their food, in Hell the souls are punished with cold and heavy rain rained down from the sky,while Cerberus claws at the spirits, rips at their skin, and bites holes.

Fourth circle (Greed/Avarice)[change | edit source]

In life the stingy misers miserly hoarded their money greedily, while the prodigal spenthrifts spent their money foolishly. Both groups are pushing and pulling great bags of gold as they did in life. The greedy are guarded by Plutus, god of riches and wealth,who briefly threatens Dante by his cryptic Papé Satàn, papé Satàn aleppe,but he collapes after rebuked by Virgil.

Fifth circle (Wrath)[change | edit source]

The fifth circle, illustrated by Stradanus

In the river Styx , the wrathful fight each other on the surface,while thesullen lie below its surface,causing the river to bubble and boil. Phlegyas,the ferryman reluctantly allows them in his skiff.

City of Dis[change | edit source]

The river surrounds the city of Dis in Upper Hell, where active sinners are located,(passive sinners are in Lower Hell) . When Virgil tries to enter, the angels of Hell slam the door in his face. He and Dante proceed to the gate where Christ entered Hell during his three-day trip to release a select few people. During the Harrowing of Hell he broke the door so it could never close again.

Lower Hell, inside the walls of Dis, in an illustration by Stradanus. There is a drop from the sixth circle to the three rings of the seventh circle, then again to the ten rings of the eighth circle, and, at the bottom, to the icy ninth circle.

Sixth circle (Heresy)[change | edit source]

The heretics are trapped in red-hot iron tombs.

Seventh circle (Violence)[change | edit source]

This circle holds those who were violent in their lives.

Outer Ring: The people who were violent to people and property are in the Phlegethon, a river of fire. The depth of their placement in the river corresponds to how much you damaged in life. For example, Alexander the Great is immersed up to his eyebrows.

Middle Ring: The violent against self (suciders) are turned into plants.

Inner Circle: The violent to God and the violent to nature are also here. They have to walk on flaming sand for eternity.

Between the 7th and 8th circle is a chasm,which only can be crossed by riding the monster Geryon,who is the epitomime of fraud,

Eigth circle (Fraud)[change | edit source]

This circle is divided into ten parts called Malebolge,where pimps, seducers, flatterers, simonists, sorcerers, fortune-tellers, false prophets, corrupt politicians, hypocrites, thieves, schismatics, alchemists, and counterfeiters are in. Each punishment is the opposite of what they did in life. Fortune-tellers, who tried to see things ahead of time, are forced to walk backwards.

Ninth circle (Treachery)[change | edit source]

The traitors are trapped in an icy lake called Cocytus,which is divided into four parts:

Caina: Named after Cain,who killed his brother Abel,this is where the traitors to family are immersed in ice up to their chins. The evil knight Mordred,who betrayed is uncle/father King Arthur is seen there.

Traitors to political entities are also here. Traitors to guests lie in the ice, which covers them completely except for their faces. Judecca:Traitors to their lords and benefactors are completely buried in ice in various positions.

In the very center of Hell, because he sinned the ultimate sin (treachery against God), lies Satan,who is described as a beast with three faces, six wings, and is eternally weeping from his six eyes. Each of Satan's mouths chews on a prominent traitor from history. Brutus and Cassius are being chewed feet-first. The center mouth is chewing on Judas Iscariot. His head is being chewed on by Satan, and his back is being skinned by Satan's claws.

Dante and Virgil escape by climbing down Satan's fur through the center of the earth, turn the other way round and emerge from the Southern hemisphere on the dawn of Easter Sunday,where they will ascend Mount Purgatory.

Albert Ritter sketched the Comedy's geography from Dante's Cantos: Hell's entrance is near Florence with the circles descending to Earth's centre; sketch 5 reflects Canto 34's inversion as Dante passes down, and thereby up to Mount Purgatory's shores in the southern hemisphere, where he passes to the first sphere of Heaven at the top.

Purgatario[change | edit source]

Dante gazes at Mount Purgatory in an allegorical portrait by Agnolo Bronzino, painted c. 1530

Having survived the horrors of Hell,Dante and Virgil climb out of the undergloom,and watch as the sun rises. They spot an island,(the only building in the Southern Hemisphere) ,on which Mt.Purgatory is located.

Paradiso[change | edit source]