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Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno
Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno
Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno
Ebook313 pages3 hours

Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



About this ebook

The Inferno is by far the most popular and well-known of the books in the Divine Comedy trilogy because of its depiction and understanding of the moral and spiritual pitfalls which still plague us today. This edition is illustrated with astonishing artworks, from Hieronymus Bosch's depictions of a surreal, hellish landscapes and other Renaissance visions of the Last Judgement, to Gustave Doré's intricate engravings of the pilgrim's spiritual travails.
Release dateMay 3, 2013
Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri, born in Florence in 1265, became one of the leading lyric poets in Italy as a young man. He was exiled for political reasons, and in the last fifteen years of his life composed The Divine Comedy, of which the Inferno is the most-read part today.

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Rating: 3.9917667238421957 out of 5 stars

2,915 ratings86 reviews

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  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Dante's journey through Hell ranks in my top 5 favorite books. I especially like this translation, as it keeps the language modern enough to be readable, but is still beautiful. Also, there are plenty of foot and end notes to explain middle age-phrases and historical references many people may not be familiar with.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    A handsome book, but a clunky and awkward translation.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I read the Longfellow translation and despite a huge lack of historical knowledge about Dante's contemporary Florence I really enjoyed Inferno.

    The imaginative punishments are gruesome enough to capture your attention and the whole poem is successful in painting quite a visual image of Dante's incarnation of hell.

  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    Gave me nightmares.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Amazing and bizarre. To have lived in a time awhen the fires and ice of hell were as real as the sun rising each day. The horrors of The Inferno were certainly cautionary, but not exactly in keeping with what modernity would deem the correct weight of sins. On to Purgatorio.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I listened to this book on CD instead of actually reading it. The version that I had had an explination at the beginning of each verse to help you understand and then read the verse.

    In this book, you travel with Dante through the 9 circles of hell.

    I really liked this book. I forgot how much I liked Greek Mythology (which I did not expect in this book at all). It has pushed me to look into more mythology again.

Book preview

Dante's Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri


Dante Alighieri (c.1265–1321) was born into a prominent Florentine family. When he was about 20 years old he married the daughter of a local nobleman, Gemma Donati, with whom he had a family. However his muse was a girl called Bice Portinari (Beatrice) whom he first met in 1274 and whom he continued to dote upon even after her death in 1290. Dante was embroiled in the sectarianism of Florence – a city torn apart by rival clans. While feudal aristocracy backed imperial authority (the Ghibellines), the Alighieri family supported the pope (the Guelphs). Their party eventually splintered into hostile White and Black factions. Offended by Pope Boniface VIII’s interference in secular affairs, Dante joined the White Guelphs. He was banished from Florence following the Black Guelph victory of 1302. Although he enjoyed the patronage of powerful northern Italian princes, his future political allegiances were misguided. He died in exile in Ravenna in 1321.

Dante’s Divine Comedy, begun in 1308, was the first book to be written in the Italian vulgare (specifically, the Tuscan dialect) instead of Latin. The complete poem comprises three cantiche – Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory) and Paradiso (Paradise) – written in terza rima, a verse scheme of three-line stanzas with interlocking rhyme patterns (aba, bcb, cdc, and so on). Dante’s influences included the classics, the neo-Platonists, Aristotle, natural philosophy and theology. The Inferno’s opening canto is a microcosm of the entire work and its topography prefigures the three realms of the soul’s afterlife: the dark wood (Hell), the barren slope (Mount Purgatory) and the blissful mountain (Paradise).

The epic poem juxtaposes human privation, injustice and imperfection with divine freedom, justice and perfection. Dante’s allegorical theme of God’s gradual revelation to an unsuspecting, unprepared pilgrim beautifully illustrates the concept of the rational human soul choosing salvation of its own free will. The use of real-life characters, autobiographical detail, personal failures and triumphs, sophisticated eschatological discourse and the denunciation of contemporary politics renders the poem unique. The imagery remains unsurpassed – galloping centaurs, devils, chained giants, cannibalism, dazzling angels, supernatural rivers and trees, configurations of lights and a heavenly stadium.

Inferno begins in the year 1300 when, at the age of thirty-five, Dante is lost in a dark forest, having missed the ‘straightforward way’. The way to salvation is symbolized by the sun behind the mountain but it is barred by three beasts – a Leopard, a Lion and a She-Wolf, each representing different sins. After Dante’s love, Beatrice (his real-life muse) intercedes on his behalf he is joined by the classical poet Virgil, who becomes his guide through the underworld. They cross the Acheron on Charon’s ferry and reach the Gate of Hell. Located under the city of Jerusalem in the Northern Hemisphere, Hell extends funnellike into the earth’s core. Dante and Virgil then descend through the nine Circles of Hell where they witness the torments of the damned.

The punishments of the damned are chillingly appropriate to their sins. Here are a few examples of contrapasso (the logical relationship between punishment and offence). The Suicides severed ties with their body so they will be denied human form on Judgment Day (Canto XIII). The Profligates, who were violently wasteful, are chased through trees and torn by dogs, because property was seen as an extension of the body and this kind of violence was tantamount to suicide (Canto XIII). The Flatterers are immersed in their verbal diarrhoea (Canto XVIII). The Simonists are given inverted baptisms with fire to illustrate their ecclesiastical perversion (Canto XIX). The Benedictine garb of the Hypocrites condemns their false piety (Canto XXIII) whilst the Thieves’ multiple transformations parody reincarnation and reflect their inability to separate ‘mine’ from ‘thine’ (Canto XXV). Fraudulent, silver-tongued rhetoric is condemned by the flaming tongues that consume the evil counsellors (Cantos XXVI–XXVII) while those who divided institutions, communities and families are ripped open (Canto XXVIII). The corrosive influence of falsification on metals (Alchemists), money (Counterfeiters), identity (Imposters) and truth (Liars) is fittingly expressed through the diseased state of their bodies and minds (Cantos XIX–XXX).

Dante categorizes sin as being without malice (Incontinence) or with malicious intent (Violence or Fraud). Cowardice and indecisiveness escape this dichotomy and are marginalized within Limbo. Heresy is in a kind of no-man’s land as it refutes Christian reality and the soul’s immortality yet does not involve sinful action.

The pilgrim’s behaviour sometimes mirrors that of the damned – for example, he chooses not to interact with the Indecisives (Canto III); he compares his excusable vandalism of church property with Boniface’s inexcusable destruction of the Church’s foundations (Canto XIX); and the language he uses when conversing with the Thieves suggests that he is contributing to the transformations themselves (Canto XXIV).

When they have travelled through all nine circles, Dante and Virgil finally reach the lake of ice where the three-headed Lucifer resides. Each head is chewing a sinner (Judas Iscariot, Brutus and Cassius). The pair escapes by climbing down Lucifer’s furry legs – down because Mount Purgatory lies in the opposite (Southern) hemisphere. After passing through the centre of the Earth, they emerge to ‘rebehold the stars’.


In the middle of his life, Dante has left the ‘straightforward pathway’ and is lost in a dark forest. He tries to regain the path by climbing a mountain but his way is barred by a Leopard, a Lion and a She-Wolf. Each creature represents a different sin. Virgil appears and offers to show him another way, one that leads through Hell and Purgatory. After that, a ‘more worthy’ guide (Beatrice) will lead him to Paradise: Virgil, as a Pagan, is not allowed to go there. Dante gladly adopts Virgil as his leader.

Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say

What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,

Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;

But of the good to treat, which there I found,

Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,

So full was I of slumber at the moment

In which I had abandoned the true way.

But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,

At that point where the valley terminated,

Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,

Vested already with that planet’s rays

Which leadeth others right by every road.

Then was the fear a little quieted

That in my heart’s lake had endured throughout

The night, which I had passed so piteously.

And even as he, who, with distressful breath,

Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,

Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,

Turn itself back to re-behold the pass

Which never yet a living person left.

After my weary body I had rested,

The way resumed I on the desert slope,

So that the firm foot ever was the lower.

And lo! almost where the ascent began,

A panther light and swift exceedingly,

Which with a spotted skin was covered o’er!

And never moved she from before my face,

Nay, rather did impede so much my way,

That many times I to return had turned.

The time was the beginning of the morning,

And up the sun was mounting with those stars

That with him were, what time the Love Divine

At first in motion set those beauteous things;

So were to me occasion of good hope,

The variegated skin of that wild beast,

The hour of time, and the delicious season;

But not so much, that did not give me fear

A lion’s aspect which appeared to me.

He seemed as if against me he were coming

With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,

So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;

And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings

Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,

And many folk has caused to live forlorn!

She brought upon me so much heaviness,

With the affright that from her aspect came,

That I the hope relinquished of the height.

And as he is who willingly acquires,

And the time comes that causes him to lose,

Who weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,

E’en such made me that beast withouten peace,

Which, coming on against me by degrees

Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent.

While I was rushing downward to the lowland,

Before mine eyes did one present himself,

Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.

When I beheld him in the desert vast,

Have pity on me, unto him I cried,

Whiche’er thou art, or shade or real man!

He answered me: "Not man; man once I was,

And both my parents were of Lombardy,

And Mantuans by country both of them.

‘Sub Julio’ was I born, though it was late,

And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,

During the time of false and lying gods.

A poet was I, and I sang that just

Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,

After that Ilion the superb was burned.

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?

Why climb’st thou not the Mount Delectable,

Which is the source and cause of every joy?"

"Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain

Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?"

I made response to him with bashful forehead.

"O, of the other poets honour and light,

Avail me the long study and great love

That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my master, and my author thou,

Thou art alone the one from whom I took

The beautiful style that has done honour to me.

Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;

Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,

For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble."

Thee it behoves to take another road,

Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,

"If from this savage place thou wouldst escape;

Because this beast, at which thou criest out,

Suffers not any one to pass her way,

But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;

And has a nature so malign and ruthless,

That never doth she glut her greedy will,

And after food is hungrier than before.

Many the animals with whom she weds,

And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound

Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.

He shall not feed on either earth or pelf,

But upon wisdom, and on love and virtue;

’Twixt Feltro and Feltro shall his nation be;

Of that low Italy shall he be the saviour,

On whose account the maid Camilla died,

Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;

Through every city shall he hunt her down,

Until he shall have driven her back to Hell,

There from whence envy first did let her loose.

Therefore I think and judge it for thy best

Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide,

And lead thee hence through the eternal place,

Where thou shalt hear the desperate lamentations,

Shalt see the ancient spirits disconsolate,

Who cry out each one for the second death;

And thou shalt see those who contented are

Within the fire, because they hope to come,

Whene’er it may be, to the blessed people;

To whom, then, if thou wishest to ascend,

A soul shall be for that than I more worthy;

With her at my departure I will leave thee;

Because that Emperor, who reigns above,

In that I was rebellious to his law,

Wills that through me none come into his city.

He governs everywhere, and there he reigns;

There is his city and his lofty throne;

O happy he whom thereto he elects!"

And I to him: "Poet, I thee entreat,

By that same God whom thou didst never know,

So that I may escape this woe and worse,

Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,

That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,

And those thou makest so disconsolate."

Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.


The end of the day has come and Dante is having doubts. He does not feel worthy enough to undertake his journey. Virgil accuses him of cowardice and tells of how the Virgin Mary turned to Saint Lucia, who in turn asked for Beatrice, Dante’s love, to go down into Limbo, where Virgil resides. There Beatrice, with ‘voice angelical’, asked Virgil to assist Dante, whose way was impeded. At this, Dante is heartened, and declares to Virgil that ‘one sole will is in us both’.

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