File - Mrs. Walroth's Classroom

Dante’s Inferno
Understanding the Structure
The Divine Comedy
• 14th Century Italian literature required that works
be separated into two major groups
– Tragedy (written in formal Italian and did not end well
for the protagonist
– Comedy (written in the local dialect and had a happy
• Since Dante used the common Florentine Tuscan
to write a story that ended with the highest
achievement of the ultimate level of heaven, it
was, of course, a happy ending
– He called his piece “The Comedy” (Giovanni Boccaccio
later added “Divine”
• Composed of 14,233 lines divided into three
– Inferno (Hell)
– Purgatorio (Purgatory)
– Paradiso (Paradise)
• Each consists of 33 cantos (with one additional
canto to serve as an introduction) for a total
number of 100
• The verse scheme used is “terza rima”
– Hendecasyllabic (lines of eleven syllables)
– Lines composing tercets (three lines of poetry
making a stanza) according to the rhyme scheme
aba, bcb, cdc, ded, …
• The structure of the three realms follows a
common numerical pattern of 9 plus 1 for a
total of 10
– 9 circles of the Inferno, followed by Lucifer
contained at its bottom
– 9 rings of Mount Purgatory, followed by the
Garden of Eden at the summit
– 9 celestial bodies of Paradiso, followed by the
Empyrean containing the essence of God
The Inferno
• Good Friday – Easter Sunday, 1300
– Dante is 35 years old, half of the biblical life expectancy of
• The story is an allegory, representing the Christian soul
seeing sin for what it really is
• Dante is lost in a dark wood (sin), is assailed by beasts
(she-wolf, lion, leopard), and is unable to find the
straight way (right way to salvation)
• He is rescued by Virgil, and the two begin their journey
into the underworld
– Each sin’s punishment is a contrapasso, a symbolic
retribution (their punishment matches their sin)
• Within the 9 circles, 7 correspond to a specific moral scheme,
subdividing itself into three subcategories, while 2 others of more
particularity are added for a completion of 9
• The three beasts represent three types of sin (symbolic of the
– The incontinent (self-indulgent) – she-wolf
• Circles 2-5: contained in Upper-Hell (lust, gluttony, avarice, and anger)
– The violent – lion
• Circle 7
– The malicious (fraud/betrayal) – leopard
• Circles 8 & 9 (fraud and treachery)
• Added to these are two unlike categories that are specifically
– Circle 1 – Limbo contains the virtuous pagans who were not sinful but
were ignorant of Christ
– Circle 6 – Contains the heretics who contradicted the doctrine and
confused the spirit of Christ
Structure of Hell
• For the Medieval faithful, Hell was the place of
turmoil, chaos, pain, despair, wretchedness, and
a general bad time
– They had a desire to classify and put order to things
• Dante’s order was to place nine circles in the
shape of a funnel or an inverted cone, ending at
the center of the earth
– Each circle descends from the sins of incontinence to
the sins of fraud (which he despised the most)