In the Inferno, Lucifer is a frightening and inhuman monster who is nevertheless powerless. An angel who led a revolt against God, Lucifer is now only the “emperor of the reign of misery.” Frozen in ice at the very bottom of Hell, his angelic beauty has turned to ugliness. The Inferno describes his huge, bat-like wings and three heads; the mouth of each head dribbles blood as Lucifer chews on three other traitors: Brutus, Cassius, and Judas. Lucifer’s ruined, monstrous features symbolize the way that treason, and sin more broadly, distort human nature.

Lucifer’s treachery and physical ugliness are so terrible that Dante’s heart “turn[s] to ice,” leaving Dante suspended between life and death. Despite Dante’s terror, Lucifer has no real power. Like all the other sinners in Hell, he is trapped in his punishment. Virgil and Dante actually exit Hell by climbing down Lucifer’s immobile body, and when they look back, they see his furry “legs held straight up in the air”—a humorous image, which underscores his final powerlessness. Ultimately, though Hell threatens Dante, the Inferno leaves no real doubt that Lucifer is not the one in charge, and that God will rescue Dante.