Why did Dante write the Inferno?

Dante wrote the Inferno to encourage readers and teach religious truths. In the Inferno, Dante imagines himself traveling through Hell to reach “the nation of the blessed” (Heaven). He then writes about that journey, despite how dark and unpleasant it was, “to reveal the good that came to me.” Clearly, Dante’s goal in the Inferno is not to tell an exciting tale but rather to urge readers to undertake their own faith journeys, trusting in divine aid to guide them. That Dante pauses his narrative at times to point out its meaning to readers underscores that the goal of the Inferno is to teach spiritual realities.

Who is Virgil?

Virgil (70-19 BCE) was a Roman poet living during the reign of Caesar Augustus and Dante’s guide in the Inferno. Because Aeneas, the Aeneid’s eponymous hero, obeyed the gods and acted justly, Virgil gained a reputation for wisdom and virtue; this reputation prompts the poet Dante, writing about his imagined trip through Hell, to select Virgil as his moral teacher. Dante also selects Virgil due to the love and respect he has for the Roman. Seeing Virgil as his artistic mentor, Dante calls him the “honor and light of every poet.” The friendship between the two poets gives Dante the courage to face the terrors of Hell.

What are the circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno?

Hell in Dante’s Inferno is a series of concentric rings—“small and smaller / as you go down”—and sinners are placed in particular rings based on the kinds of sin they committed. The upper rings contain sinners guilty of a lack of control in relation to things such as sex, food, and money. Deeper rings contain sinners guilty of intentional injustices. The violent come first, including sinners who behave violently toward neighbors, themselves, or God. Next come the fraudulent; because only human beings are capable of fraud, it is punished more severely. In the lowest circle of all are sinners guilty of treason, a particularly reprehensible kind of fraud.

Who is Minos in Dante’s Inferno?

One of Hell’s many monsters, Minos sits at the entryway to Hell; there, he “weighs all the sins and sends the wicked down” to the appropriate level. He initially determines where a sinner belongs by listening to the sinner share his life story, and then wraps his tail around himself “as many times / as there are grades a sinner must descend,” indicating which level of Hell a sinner belongs in. Minos initially tries to turn Dante away from Hell altogether, because Dante is still living, but Virgil insists, as it is God’s will that Dante pass through Hell. 

Who is in charge of Hell?

While Hell seems to be ruled by the demons and monsters who dwell there, Dante is clear that Heaven has final say over what happens in Hell. Lucifer is described as “emperor of the reign of misery,” and the breeze from his wings freezes the lowest levels of Hell. Yet Lucifer is himself frozen, and he is not in charge. Other monsters, such as the demons and Minos, determine the placement of each sinner and carry out the assigned torments. Yet these monstrous creatures are also punished in Hell; the demons, for instance, fall into the same boiling tar where the sinners are imprisoned. In the end, the only entity with absolute power is Heaven itself. Dante states clearly that “divine omnipotence created” Hell, and now, divine power gets Dante through Hell, as even the mention of Heaven’s will is enough to silence the monsters who threaten Dante. Thus, Heaven has the final victory over death and Hell.