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.