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Inferno

Dante Alighieri

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Key Facts

Key Facts

full title  · Inferno

author  · Dante Alighieri

type of work  · Narrative poem

genre  · Epic poem, religious allegory, fantasy

language  · Medieval Italian vernacular

time and place written  · Early fourteenth century (probably begun around 1308 and completed around 1314), throughout Italy

date of first publication  · 1314

narrator  · The character Dante recounts his trip through Hell, looking back on it after an indeterminate period of time.

point of view  · As Inferno is an account of his own experiences, the character Dante speaks in the first person from a subjective point of view, giving the reader insight into his emotions and motivations.

tone  · Dante uses a largely moralistic tone when portraying the figures and events in his poem. At times he also comes across as sardonic or ironic. With his elaborately designed retributions, Dante expresses a belief in, and awe for, the perfection of divine justice.

tense  · Past

setting (time)  · The evening of Good Friday through the morning of Easter Sunday in the year 1300

setting (place)  · Hell

protagonist  · On a literal level, Dante, the character in the poem; on an allegorical level, humankind

major conflict  · Dante attempts to find God in his life, while those sentenced to punishment in Hell hinder him from the true path.

climax  · Inferno constitutes only the first third of a much larger work, The Divine Comedy; for this reason, and because of its extremely steady linear plot, Inferno has no real climax. The most dramatically significant moment in the poem probably arises in Dante’s encounter with Lucifer, in Canto XXXIV, a scene that has struck generations of readers and critics as (deliberately) anticlimactic.

themes  · The perfection of God’s justice; evil as the contradiction of God’s will; storytelling as a vehicle for immortality

motifs  · Political arguments; allusions to classical literature and mythology; cities; the role of fame and prestige in human life

symbols  · Inferno is an allegory; nearly every element symbolizes some aspect of the theme. Most notably, the punishments of the sinners correspond symbolically to the sins themselves.

foreshadowing  · Virgil occasionally makes references to events that occur later in the poem, and the Italian characters often prophesy Dante’s exile from Florence, but, on the whole, Inferno contains little foreshadowing. Count Ugolino’s gnawing on the head of the archbishop in Canto XXXIII may foreshadow Lucifer’s gnawing on Brutus, Cassius, and Judas.

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