"5 Sinners in Dante’s Inferno," Stuff You Missed in History Class

This podcast episode provides the backstory for five sinners whom Dante meets during his journey through Hell, all likely unknown to modern readers: Farinata, Pietro della Vigna, Pope Nicholas III, the magician Michael Scott, and Ugolino and Ruggieri. The episode also contextualizes Dante’s exile with a short, helpful discussion of the ruling factions of Italy. 

The Geologic Features that Inspired Hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy

This short essay compares Dante’s imagined Hell both to real-world local geologic features such as Vesuvius, and to classical and medieval understandings of geology, in order to understand why Dante designed Hell the way he did. Diagrams are provided to help readers picture Dante’s idea of Hell and locate it geographically.

Paradise Lost: Why Doesn’t Anyone Read Dante’s Paradiso?

Dante’s trip through Hell cannot be fully understood without some knowledge of his destination: Heaven. This essay describes the storyline and characters of the final book in the Divine Comedy, the Paradiso. In so doing, it clarifies one of Dante’s purposes in writing the epic as a whole: to spark readers’ hope in heaven, especially in light of the troubles that define human experience on earth. 

A 21st Century Man: Why Is Dante Hot All of a Sudden?

Starting with a brief description of how modernist poets such as T.S. Eliot have relied on Dante, this essay goes on to discuss Dante’s relevance for our modern period, naming especially the science fiction element to Dante’s imagery and the importance of talking about human tragedy and horror with honesty. 

Dante’s Damned Flatterers

Every punishment Dante assigns to the sinners in Hell is deliberate and symbolic, meaning that what the sinners experience after death says something about their wrongdoing in life. This essay nicely unpacks how the punishment assigned to the flatterers (they are literally submerged in shit) symbolizes what flattery is: bullshit (figuratively speaking) for personal gain. The essay also demonstrates how to interpret the allegorical levels of the Inferno

Mapping Dante

This website provides an interactive map showing all the places that Dante refers to in the entire Divine Comedy. Use the layering options on the right-hand side of the page to focus more specifically on the places that Dante refers to in Inferno, and/or the places that Dante himself visited in life. 

Gustave Dore woodcuts

This website includes a full list of the woodcuts that illustrator Gustave Dore made for Dante’s Inferno. Made in the late 1800s, the woodcuts display many of the key scenes and characters and may be valuable for readers trying to picture the storyline. The woodcuts also provide a glimpse at some of the art which grew up around Dante’s narrative.