The Inferno


Now we begin Dante’s great, poetic journey, midway through his life. We begin with Dante alone, his path blocked by ferocious beasts.

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“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wilderness,
for I had wandered from the straight and true.”

(Inferno I.1-3, translated by Anthony Esolen)

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here

The Dark Wood


Dante is lost – it seems, to him, hopelessly so – and the path is blocked by three remarkable animals: a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf. Just as he begins to despair, he encounters a remarkable man – the epic poet, Virgil. With Virgil as his guide, Dante moves towards the infamous gates of Hell, and the journey begins.

Then are you-are you Virgil? And that spring
swelling into so rich a stream of verse?
Inferno Canto 1. 79-80

Translated by Anthony Esolen.

Artwork by Gustave Doré, available at Gutenberg.org.

Limbo


Dante and Virgil begin their journey in a beautiful place, full of souls who, though they were virtuous in life, nonetheless did not know Christ. Dante meets philosophers such as Plato and Averroes, as well as the poets Ovid and Homer, and many others. 

So we proceeded till we reached the light,
speaking of things best kept in silence here,
as in that place to speak of them was right.
Inferno Canto 4. 103-105

Translated by Anthony Esolen.

Artwork by Gustave Doré, available at Gutenberg.org.

Lust


Dante is greeted in the second circle of hell by Minos, who moves his tail to indicate where the souls who enter should go, based upon their sins. A pair of lovers–Paolo and Francesca–meet Dante and share their story of love and its tragic end. 

“Love led us to one death. The realm of Cain
waits for the man who quenched us of our lives.”
Such were the words they offered.
Inferno Canto 5.106-108

Translated by Anthony Esolen.

Artwork by Gustave Doré, available at Gutenberg.org.

Gluttony


Here, in the third circle of hell, it rains, cold and endless. Dante meets a familiar figure from ancient mythology – that of Cerebus, the three-headed dog who guards the entrance to Hades.

Two men are just, but no one heeds their words.
Avarice, pride, and envy are the three
principal flames that sets their hearts afire.
— Inferno Canto 6. 73-75

Translated by Anthony Esolen.

Artwork by Gustave Doré, available at Gutenberg.org.

Greed


Dante now descends further into the realms of hell, and with each descent he discovers a more frightening environment. Here, Dante meets the souls of the greedy, who circle round each other shouting and wailing. 

As at Charybdis when two sea waves wheel
head-on and smash, over the whirlpool- so
the people in this ring must dance their reel.
Inferno Canto 7. 22-24

Translated by Anthony Esolen.

Artwork by Gustave Doré, available at Gutenberg.org.

Wrath


Dante is almost trapped here, with the ferryman Phlegyas hoping to capture him before Virgil intervenes. A number of the souls wonder about Dante because, much to their surprise, he is alive. The gruesome dismemberment of the souls in the water gives way to seeing the city of Dis, as Dante steps towards lower Hell.

And he replied, “The everlasting flames
its heart ignites make it as red as fire,
flaring within these nether depths of Hell.”
— Canto 8. 73-75

Artwork by Gustave Doré, available at Gutenberg.org.

Heresy


Now we begin to enter larger–and more complex–circles of hell, beginning with the heretics who are entombed in the City of Dis. Dante and Virgil, who have both undergone tremendous fear in trying to enter the city, find heretics of many kinds, including Epicureans and two Florentine souls. 

We should take our descent a little slow,
letting our sense grow used to the foul air
a little-then we will not mind it so.
Inferno Canto 11. 10-12

Translated by Anthony Esolen.

Artwork by Gustave Doré, available at Gutenberg.org.

Violence


Dante and Virgil make their way down a steep incline and into the circle of the violent, comprised of three rings: violence against others, violence against the self, and violence against God. In these rings, Dante will discover black forests, a plain of sand with fire raining down, and much more.

Never would he have stretched his hand against you.
But since the thing was unbelievable,
I made him do what I myself regret.
But tell him who you were. To mend the deed
maybe he’ll make your memory green again
back in the world above, when he returns.
Inferno Canto 13. 49-54

Translated by Anthony Esolen.

Artwork by Gustave Doré, available at Gutenberg.org.

Fraud


The circle of Fraud takes up much of the poetic space of the Inferno as well as Dante’s geography. Dante takes us through the evil trenches of Maleboge, climbing over broken bridges and up ridges, a chase with demons in pursuit of Dante and Virgil, and more. 

My Teacher made me downcast for a while
when I perceived the trouble in his brow,
but then he laid the plaster on the sore,
For when we reached the ruined bridge, my guide
turned to me with that sweet and gracious look
which I’d first seen below the mountainside.
Inferno Canto 24. 16-21  

Translated by Anthony Esolen.

Artwork by Gustave Doré, available at Gutenberg.org.

Treachery


Here in the final circle of hell, all is ice: the ice is strong enough to withstand a stone mountain falling against it, with a wind of icy air from Satan’s wings beating back and forth. Here, Dante will be unable to fully express what he experienced, but he and Virgil will discover a path forward. 

At that I turned, and saw before my feet
a lake of ice, which in the terrible cold
looked not like frozen water, but like glass.
Inferno Canto 32. 22-24

Translated by Anthony Esolen.

Artwork by Gustave Doré, available at Gutenberg.org.

Continue To Purgatory

Climb to See the Stars