To get back up to the shining world from there
My guide and I went into that hidden tunnel;
. . .
Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.

These concluding words of Inferno describe Dante and Virgil’s climb out of the underworld and back to the surface of the Earth (XXXIV.134–140). Dante the poet fancies that when Lucifer was flung down from Heaven, he struck the Earth in a place exactly opposite Jerusalem in the Southern Hemisphere and penetrated the center of the planet; the cavity left by his fall is Hell. As Dante and Virgil climb out of Hell on the other side of the world, they climb up through a cavity that was once full of earth; the earth was displaced by Lucifer’s fall and thrust up to the surface, where it formed an island. This island is Purgatory, which Dante tours in the next part of The Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, as he continues his trek toward salvation.

These lines are chiefly important because of how they end: Dante, fresh from his nightmarish visit to Hell, gazes up at Heaven’s stars. This image symbolizes the idea that Dante has begun his slow climb out of sin and confusion and has taken a step toward Beatrice and God, ending this very dark poem on a note of brilliant optimism. It is greatly significant that both Purgatorio and Paradiso end with the same word as Inferno: stele, or the stars. It is clear not only that Dante aspires to Heaven but also that his poem aspires to a place among the epics.