author and protagonist of Inferno
; the focus of
all action and interaction with other characters. Because Dante
chose to present his fictional poem as a record of events that actually
happened to him, a wide gulf between Dante the poet and Dante the
character pervades the poem. For instance, Dante the poet often portrays
Dante the character as compassionate and sympathetic at the sight
of suffering sinners, but Dante the poet chose to place them in
Hell and devised their suffering. As a result, if Dante the character
is at all representative of Dante the poet, he is a very simplified version:
sympathetic, somewhat fearful of danger, and confused both morally
and intellectually by his experience in Hell. As the poem progresses,
Dante the character gradually learns to abandon his sympathy and
adopt a more pitiless attitude toward the punishment of sinners,
which he views as merely a reflection of divine justice.
in-depth analysis of Dante.
guide through the depths of Hell. Historically, Virgil lived in
the first century b.c
., in what is now northern
Italy. Scholars consider him the greatest of the Latin poets. His
masterpiece, the Aeneid,
tells the story of how
Aeneas, along with fellow survivors of the defeat of Troy, came
to found Rome. The shade (or spirit) of Virgil that appears in Inferno
been condemned to an eternity in Hell because he lived prior to
Christ’s appearance on Earth (and thus prior to the possibility
of redemption in Him). Nonetheless, Virgil has now received orders
to lead Dante through Hell on his spiritual journey. Virgil proves
a wise, resourceful, and commanding presence, but he often seems
helpless to protect Dante from the true dangers of Hell. Critics generally
consider Virgil an allegorical representation of human reason—both
in its immense power and in its inferiority to faith in God.
in-depth analysis of Virgil.
of the blessed in Heaven, Beatrice aids Dante’s journey by asking
an angel to find Virgil and bid him guide Dante through Hell. Like
Dante and Virgil, Beatrice corresponds to a historical personage. Although
the details of her life remain uncertain, we know that Dante fell
passionately in love with her as a young man and never fell out
of it. She has a limited role in Inferno
but becomes more prominent
In fact, Dante’s entire imaginary journey
throughout the afterlife aims, in part, to find Beatrice, whom he
has lost on Earth because of her early death. Critics generally
view Beatrice as an allegorical representation of
figure that Dante appropriates from Greek mythology, Charon is an
old man who ferries souls across the river Acheron to Hell.
Paolo and Francesca da Rimini
A pair of lovers condemned to the Second Circle
of Hell for an adulterous love affair that they began after reading
the story of Lancelot
prince of Hell, also referred to as Dis. Lucifer resides at the
bottom of the Ninth (and final) Circle of Hell, beneath the Earth’s
surface, with his body jutting through the planet’s center. An enormous
giant, he has three faces but does not speak; his three mouths are busy
chewing three of history’s greatest traitors: Judas, the betrayer
of Christ, and Cassius and Brutus, the betrayers of Julius Caesar.
king of Crete in Greek mythology, Minos is portrayed by Dante as
a giant beast who stands at the Second Circle of Hell, deciding
where the souls of sinners shall be sent for torment. Upon hearing
a given sinner’s confession, Minos curls his tail around himself a
specific number of times to represent the circle of Hell to which
the soul should be consigned.
Pope Boniface VIII
A notoriously corrupt pope who reigned from 1294 to 1303,
Boniface made a concerted attempt to increase the political might
of the Catholic Church and was thus a political enemy of Dante,
who advocated a separation of church and state.
Ghibelline political leader from Dante’s era who resides among the
Heretics in the Sixth Circle of Hell. Farinata is doomed to continue
his intense obsession with Florentine politics, which he is now
boatman who rows Dante and Virgil across the river Styx.
A Black Guelph, a political enemy of Dante who is now
in the Fifth Circle of Hell. Argenti resides among the Wrathful
in the river Styx.
Centaur (half man and half horse) who carries Dante through the
First Ring of the Seventh Circle
Pier della Vigna
A former advisor to Emperor Frederick II, della Vigna
committed suicide when he fell into disfavor at the court. He now
must spend eternity in the form of
massive serpentine monster that transports
Dante and Virgil from the Seventh to the Eighth Circle of Hell.
leader of the Malabranche, the demons who guard the Fifth Pouch
of the Eighth Circle of Hell. Malacoda (his name means “evil tail”)
intentionally furnishes Virgil and Dante with erroneous directions.
thief punished in the Seventh Pouch of the Eighth Circle of Hell
who prophesies the defeat of the White Guelphs. A defiant soul,
Fucci curses God and aims an obscene gesture at Him before Dante
great hero of the Homeric epics the Iliad
and the Odyssey
Ulysses was a bold and cunning man who is now imprisoned in the
Eighth Pouch of the Eighth Circle of Hell among those guilty of
Guido da Montefeltro
An advisor to Pope Boniface VIII, da Montefeltro
was promised anticipatory absolution—forgiveness for a sin given
prior to the perpetration of the sin itself. Da Montefeltro now
suffers in Hell, since absolution cannot be gained without repentance
and it is impossible to repent a sin before committing it.
giant who transports Dante and Virgil from the Eighth to the Ninth
Circle of Hell.
traitor condemned to the Second Ring of the Ninth Circle of Hell.
Ugolino gnaws on the head of another damned traitor, Archbishop
Ruggieri. When Ruggieri imprisoned Ugolino and his sons, denying them
food, Ugolino was driven to eat the corpses of his starved sons.
Fra Alberigo and Branca d’Oria
Sinners condemned to the Third Ring of the Ninth
Circle of Hell. Fra Alberigo and Branca d’Oria are unlike the other
sinners Dante encounters: their crimes were deemed to be so great that
devils snatched their souls from their living bodies; thus, their
souls reside in Hell while their bodies live on, now guided and
possessed by demons.