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Dante Alighieri


Caulin McGraw and Nancy Farmer

Instructional Goal


The goal of this eBook is to guide the reader through the Inferno of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Dante’s Inferno is a very complex work of literature and this guide will help ease readers concerns and aid in overall understanding of the material. This eBook is intended for a high school level course (9-12).


Use This!

Virtual Guide Through Hell

As you read through this eBook covering Dante’s Inferno, reference this website for more information and visual aid about Dante’s version of Hell. These visual aids will give an image of the reading and help your overall understanding. 2


USER’S GUIDE To use this eBook, scroll through the pages, read the material provided, and watch the videos embedded. For a shortcut, you may click on specific pages to see desired content.


BACKGROUND Watch this video to get a glimpse or overview of Dante’s Inferno. This intro video will help the reader gain a better overall understanding, before actually beginning the book. Enjoy! Video 4

SECTION 1 Dante Alighieri: A Short Biography Dante Alighieri was a Catholic writer who lived from 1265-1321. This was during the Dark Ages in the time leading up to the Renaissance.  He lived in Florence, Italy, which was at this time an exciting and prosperous city.  It was the height of civilization and culture and had a stimulating artistic society.  The city was filled with greedy merchants, dedicated scholars, and warring political factions. It was also a center of banking.  Dante lived in the medieval times so Popes lived luxuriously and had power over all the royal leaders such as princes, kings, and emperors. During Dante’s life, there was a large amount of political turmoil.  There were two political factions: the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The Guelphs, which Dante belonged to, supported the Pope while the Ghibellines supported the emperor. There were also two factions among the Guelphs, which were the Whites, which Dante supported, and the Blacks. Dante was sent as a representative of the Whites to ask Pope Boniface VIII to help bring peace among the Blacks and the Whites.  When Dante returned from his mission, the Blacks were in power and ordered that Dante must be exiled or otherwise burned at the stake.  Dante believed that Boniface had betrayed him and had a part in this plan. Dante never forgave the Pope. Exile brought despair to Dante and influenced his worldview.  Being stripped of all of his belongings, his social status, and his family, he felt surrounded by evil and injustice.  While in exile, he wrote Divine Comedy.  This epic poem serves as revenge to all those who betrayed him.  He uses symbolic retribution, which means punishment equal to actions, to set up scenes in which his enemies are punished for their sins.


SECTION 2 Levels of Hell: A Summary of Dante’s Inferno The full name of Dante’s Inferno is actually Divine Comedy. The Inferno is just one part of Dante’s work.  There is also the Purgatorio and Paradiso but this book focuses on the Inferno and this is the most popular section of the poem.   “Comedy” is not used to mean comical or humorous in this title; it is in the literary sense. The story starts off with grief and ends in joy with hell being at the beginning of the story and heaven being at the end.  The word “Divine” was actually added by later generations and this word can take two meanings: the prominent subject of God in the poem, or the excellent and appealing aspect of it.  


This epic poem serves as revenge to all those who betrayed him. He uses symbolic retribution, which means punishment equal to actions, to set up scenes in which his enemies are punished for their sins. The Inferno is Dante’s rendition of hell.  In this story, he depicts a journey through hell, meeting characters that would be recognizable to the audience of his time, such as characters from Greek mythology. At the beginning of the journey he is lost in the woods, which symbolizes his state of confusion and feeling of being lost at this point in his life.  He felt spiritually and mentally lost, so he decided to take action. In the story, he takes a journey.  This story is an allegory, which is an extended metaphor. The events in the story represent something larger than themselves and a deeper meaning can be derived from the story and its components.  What do you think the punishment of the sinners might mean for the


SECTION 3: Cantos 1&2 She-Wolf, Leopard, Lion

SECTION 2: Continued bigger picture? What do you think Dante is saying about society? These are questions to keep in mind throughout your reading of The Inferno.

Before Dante enters hell, he encounters three beasts: the She-Wolf, the Leopard, and he Lion. These animals are much different than the lions and tigers and bears (Oh my!) that Dorothy and her companions encounter in The Wizard of Oz. Each of the beasts symbolize a different kind of sin and can be related to one of the three segments of the Inferno.

Dante’s version of hell, the Inferno, is divided into nine circles and these these circles can be categorized into three segments. Each realm depicts its own type of sinner being punished. For instance, the fifth circle houses The Wrathful; their punishment is different than that of The Lustful of the second circle.  At the top of the diagram, there is Jerusalem, which is the most holy land.  The first realm before the first circle is the Vestibule, which is at the top. This realm is the home of the Indifferent.  From the first circle on, Dante witnesses atrocious punishments until he finally reaches the bottom circle,  Cocytus. This is the very worst realm of hell.  You will see in your reading of The Inferno why this is.

The She-Wolf symbolized incontinence or lack of control. Along with lack of control, the She-Wolf represents greed.  Her skinniness shows that she does not eat, which is the opposite of greed.  Dante believed that a sin like greed was one of the more mild types of sin because it occurred due to a lack of control rather than necessarily malicious intent. Well, not as malicious as some of the other categories of sin. Therefore, the She-Wolf  is associated with the first of the three levels, the less extreme realms. The next beast is the Lion, which symbolizes violence. When the Lion enters the scene, it is in a fury with anger, which shows its violent manner.  This beast can be related to the middle layer of hell, the seventh circle, which punishes people who inflicted violence upon their neighbors, themselves, or God.


The last beast Dante encounters is the Leopard. This beast is disguised in spots, appearing less harmless than it actually is. It physically blocks Dante from entering the realm of good and righteousness, showing its evilness. Its disguise shows its conniving and sinister ways. Dante believes the use of deception is the worst form of sin, so he places sins dealing with fraud at the bottom of hell.  These circles punish hypocrites, thieves, and other fraudulent sinners.


SECTION 4 Canto 3: Acheron’s Side Dante enters Hell and sees the sign that says, “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.” This sign emphasizes the fact that hell is a place of hopelessness and despair. Even deeper than that, this sign speaks about the way cities corrupt people with the way they function.  During Dante’s time there was much corruption and injustice occurring in big cities due to the actions of the political leaders.  By structuring the Inferno like a city with many inhabitants and different parts and a sign to show entry, Dante shows the 7 parallels between cities and Hell.  Dante also notices in Limbo that the people in this level are being punished by wasps and flies and other insects biting them.  Virgil succinctly states that the souls in this realm are in neither heaven nor hell because they could not decide whether to side with God or Satan.  Dante and Virgil then approach the River Acheron but are denied access to

the boat that transports souls because they are alive. However, Virgil does some talking with the boat’s owner, Charon and the two travel across the river, which takes them to Hell. Once they are in Hell, there is an earthquake with fire and smoke rising from the ground.  Dante faints.  This shows his weak state at the beginning of this journey.

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SECTION 5 Canto 4: Limbo First Circle of Hell (The Heathens)


Dante comes back to consciousness and is on the other side of the river, carried off the boat by Virgil. He approaches the first level of Hell, Limbo. Limbo contains the souls of people who led virtuous lives, but were born before the birth of Jesus or were never baptized. Many of the old testament figures such as Noah and Moses were granted permission, by Christ, to leave Limbo for Heaven. Other figures must remain in Limbo, though. Virgil lives in this level, as well. When Dante approaches a large castle with seven walls, he meets many great figures of the past, including poets, philosophers, astronomers. Virgil escorts Dante out of the castle to continue their journey. Limbo doesn’t have any great punishment. The souls that live there are trapped there forever, but are allowed to live a normal afterlife amongst other great people of the past.


SECTION 6 Canto 5: Hell Proper Second Circle of Hell (Carnal Sinners) Dante and Virgil enter the Second Circle of Hell, which is smaller in size than the first circle, but greater in punishment. The two see monster Minos, who stands in the front of a long line of sinners. As the sinners approach him one by one, they confess their sins to him. He wraps his own tail around himself a number of times and the number of times represent the circle of Hell the sinner must go. Minos spots Dante and tells him not to enter, but Virgil negotiates with Minos and he eventually allows them to pass. Dante and Virgil enter a dark place where torrential rain pours constantly and the wind never stops. This is the punishment for the Lustful- those who have committed sins of the flesh. Dante asks Virgil to identify some of the souls that live in this circle. Cleopatra is among them. Dante asks if one of the souls will tell his/her story. A woman named Francesca answers him. She tells him of her marriage to an old, deformed man and she eventually fell in love with her husbands brother. The lovers shared a kiss and Francesca’s husband has both of them killed. The secret lovers both reside in the Second Level of Hell. Dante feels bad for these souls because they are

damned to Hell because of love. Overwhelmed with pity, Dante faints again. The punishment of the Lustful is their souls swirl about the wind and must endure the rain pour at all times.

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SECTION 7 Canto 6 The Third Level of Hell (The Gluttonous) When Dante wakes up, he is being moved to the Third Circle of Hell. The rain still falls incessantly except this circle is filled with filth and excrement. The smell is horrendous. A three-headed dog named Cerberus attempts to stop Virgil and Dante, but the two are able to pass after the dog becomes distracted. This level is for the Gluttonous. One of the Gluttonous sits up when he sees the two travelers and asks if Dante recognizes him. When Dante tells the Glutton he doesn’t, the soul introduces himself as Ciacco, saying he spent most of his life living in Florence. Dante asks the soul of his predictions about Florence’s political future. The soul predicted that Florence’s future will be filled with conflict. Dante then asks if Ciacco knows

about any of the old political leaders of Florence that he believes to be good men. Ciacco tells Dante that they live in a much deeper level of Hell. Before Virgil and Dante continue on, Ciacco asks Dante to remember his name when he escapes Hell. As the two leave The Third Circle, Dante asks Virgil how the punishments of souls will change after the Last Judgement. Virgil tells Dante that since that day will bring perfection to all, their punishments will be perfect, as well. The punishment is that The Gluttonous must lay on the ground in their own filth as sewage rains on them.


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SECTION 8 Cantos 7&8 The Fourth and Fifth Level of Hell (The Avaricious and the Prodigal, The Angry and the Sullen Dante and Virgil continue to the Fourth Level of Hell where they meet the demon Plutus. Virgil silences the demon with one word and the two enter the circle of Hell. Dante instantly notices a ditch that surrounds a ring in the ground. In this ring, two groups of souls push weights in a semi-circle. When they reach the end of the semi-circle, the two groups crash into each other. They then proceed in the other direction. The process repeats itself endlessly. These souls are the Avaricious and the Prodigal: people who squandered or hoarded their money during their lives. Virgil tells Dante that most of these souls are clergymen, cardinals, and popes, but the torture they endure has left their appearances distorted. None of these souls were wise with their “Fortune.” Virgil explains to Dante that this Fortune has orders from God to transfer goods between people and countries. Humans don’t understand her (Fortune) and therefore people should not blame her for losing their belongings.


After this, Dante and Virgil enter the Fifth Level of Hell. This level borders Styx, the muddy river that runs through Hell. The two see souls at the bank of the river covered in mud. They are fighting and biting each other. These souls are known as The Wrathful: those who were full of anger their entire human lives. Virgil proceeds to tell Dante that there are more souls that can’t be seen. These souls are in the river and known as The Sullen: those who were sad in the presence of happiness 12

during their human lives. They lie completely in the river and choke on the mud constantly.

While continuing in this circle, Dante and Virgil encounter a tall tower that is on fire. When they reach the river, they meet the boatman Phlegyas, who transports them across the river. Dante sees a soul he recognizes, Filippo Argenti. He feels no remorse as he watches Argenti be torn apart. Virgil informs Dante they are entering the City of Dis or the Lower Levels of Hell. When they reach the entrance, fallen angels cry. They cry out to Dante asking why a living human would enter Dis. Virgil tries to explain Dante’s journey, but they aren’t granted access for the first time. The gates are slammed shut.

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SECTION 9 Cantos 9&10 The Sixth Level of Hell (The Heretics)

Dante grows pale with fear and Virigil tries to com-

tells Dante that the souls in this level are able to see the future but unable to see the present.

fort him. As the two are talking, three furies approach.  A fury is a creature that is half woman half serpent.  The furies summon Medusa and Virgil tells Dante to cover his eyes so he will not look her in the eyes. As the two continue to travel through the sixth circle of Hell, they encounter the fiery tombs of the heretics.  The people in tombs followed the belief system that the soul is separate from the body, so they are punished for betraying God.  Suddenly a voice is heard from a tomb and Dante is startled. It is Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti wondering why Dante did not bring his son with him to Hell and goes on to assume that his son is dead.  He grows upset and retreats back to his tomb. Dante then meets Farinata.  The two get into a conversation about politics and come to realize that their families have history and the two were enemies.  Farinata

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SECTION 10 Cantos 12-17 The Seventh Circle of Hell (Three Rings: Violence) As Dante and Virgil travel into the 7th Circle of Hell, they come across a rocky ravine. It is here where they must sneak past the monster Minotaur because he refuses to let them pass.The seventh circle of Hell punishes those who partook in violence. This begins the harsher and more punishable sins. There are three rings: those who showed violence against their neighbor, oneself, and God,nature, or art.  In the first ring, those who showed violence against their neighbors: tyrants are immersed in boiling blood. The height of the blood is raised or lowered according to the degree of their sin.  The second ring punishes those who are violent against oneself. Since suicide is an attempt to separate one’s soul from one’s body, the people in this ring are forever separated from their bodies by falling to the ground and sprouting into a tree. In the third ring are blasphemers and destructive people so they live on a great plane of burning sand and are scorched by fire from above and below. The fire from above resembles God’s wrath and the fire from below is the wrath of nature. Virgil explains to Dante where the water that forms the river of Acheron and the pool at the bottom of

Hell comes from. Under the mountain of the island of Crete stands a statue of an Old Man where tears flow through the cracks in the statue.




SECTION 11 Cantos 18-30 The Eight Circle of Hell (The Fraudulent)

The eighth circle punishes the fraudulent. It is divided into ten different malibolges, which are evil ditches. Each malibolge punishes a different type of fraud and inflicts a different kind of pain.  The first malibolge houses panders 21 and seducers.  There are two lines of sinners running in opposite directions who are being whipped by demons. In life, they goated others on to do evil things so they are driven on in hell.  The demons resemble their evil conscience. As Dante and Virgil enter the second malibolge, they come across an awful smell. The second malibolge punishes flatterers or brown nosers.  These sinners live in a ditch of their own excrement.  The third malibolge is simonists, which are priests who bought and

sold ecclesiastical pardons. This level is lined with holes. There is an inverted baptismal font in which the souls are head first in the holes and the soles of their feet are on fire.  The heat of this blaze represents guilt.  They are upside down because in life they made a mockery of the church so in hell they are placed in a mockery of baptism.  The fourth level is the sooth sayers, which are fortune tellers.  Their heads are screwed on backwards so they cannot see what is front of them because in life they tried to tell the future so now they are incapable of seeing what comes next.  The fifth level punishes the grafters.  They loan money and then charge extreme amounts of money in return. An example of a grafter is a tax collector. They are in a river of tar.  Money is thrown into the tar so when they try to reach for the money, it sticks to them and they are covered in money.  The sixth level is the hypocrites.  They wear great robes of lead which are beautiful on the outside and looks like a monk’s habit.  The outward appearance shines brightly and passes for holiness but underneath lies deceit, much like what they did in life.  The seventh malibolge is the thieves.  They live in a pit of snakes that curl themselves around the sinners.  The sinners’ hands are tied behind their hands.  Dante saw theft as reptilian so they are punished with reptiles.  The hands of the thieves are agents of their crimes.


23 In life thieves took the substance of others so in hell, the snakes take their bodies.  They waver between being man and reptile.The next level is the false counselors or people who use speech to deceive.  Dante believed these were men of genius who abused their gift.  They move about endlessly hidden by tongue-shaped flames.  They worked to deceive God in hidden ways so in hell, they are hidden by the flames of tongues. In the ninth level are the sowers of discord or terrorists.  They wanted to tear apart what God put together so they are hacked and chopped through all eternity.  Demons chop parts of them off and they have to drag that body part around.  The tenth malibolge holds the counterfeiters and falsifiers. They afflicted the senses of others in life, so in hell their senses are diseased.  This level is dark and has an unmistakable stench.  Screams of agony are heard from the sinners.Throughout the Eighth Circle, Dante speaks to many different figures such as Master Adams and Myrrha. Dante and Virgil leave the Eighth Circle of darkness.

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SECTION 12 Cantos 31-34 The Ninth Circle of Hell (Treachery) The Giant’s Well comes just before the ninth circle of hell. Giants and titans from Greek mythology guard the circle. Dante and Virgil enter the Ninth Level of Hell where they see giants roaming. This is the land of the traitors. The two come across a frozen lake, Cocytus. The heads of souls are visible above the surface of the lake. The first ring is called Caina, after Cain’s betrayal of his brother Abel. This is where betrayal against family is punished. Dante becomes very emotionally involved in these rings of hell. The second ring punishes those who have betrayed their homeland. Dante has a quick conversation with the traitor Count Ugolino. The last ring is for people whose crime was so great, they were forced into Hell even before their death.The last level of hell houses the traitors. Dante saw them as the worst sinners because of the experiences he had in his own life. These souls are frozen in ice because ice and cold are the farthest thing from  God’s warmth and love. They are frozen in the river Cocytus, which is essentially a giant garbage dump. They are frozen in this river so that they never have a role or can take any action, even in Hell.


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Watch this trailer of Dante’s Inferno, the movie. If you are still confused on the material within the book, this movie is a great resource that will further your understanding of Dante’s work.




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21 Kathy Keyes AP Literature and Composition course 20122013. Cathedral High School, Indianapolis, IN.



We hope you have enjoyed your journey through hell and that you have learned a lot along the way. 23

Dante's Inferno eBook  
Dante's Inferno eBook