The Divine Comedy


Halfway through his life, the poet Dante finds himself wandering alone in a dark forest, having lost his way on the "true path" . He says that he does not remember how he lost his way, but he has wandered into a fearful place, a dark and tangled valley.. The sun shines down from a hilltop, and Dante attempts to climb toward the light. As he climbs, however, he encounters three angry beasts in succession—a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf—which force him to turn back … The opening lines of The Divine Comedy set the stage for quite an amazing journey. Dante’s Inferno describes a mystical journey of one man’s many realizations through the gates of heaven and hell. This story has many references to Christianity and uses characters such as Virgil to symbolize human nature.


Inferno takes the form of a story whose literal plot deals entirely in symbols, instilling the story with a level of meaning implied by the events of the narrative. On a literal level, The Divine Comedy portrays Dante\'s adventures in the realms of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but these adventures represent a broader subject: “the trials of the human soul to achieve morality and find unity with God.” From the opening lines, Dante makes clear the allegorical intention of his poem: "Midway on our life\'s journey, I found myself / In dark woods, the right road lost". By writing "our life\'s journey" and with his generic phrase "the right road," Dante links his own personal experience to that of all humanity. The dark woods symbolize sinful life on Earth, and the "right road" refers to the virtuous life that leads to God.


Of the many literary techniques Dante utilizes in Inferno, he prefers one over any other: the method of creating an imaginative relationship between a soul\'s sin on Earth and the punishment he or she receives in Hell. The Sullen choke on mud, the Wrathful attack one another, the Gluttonous are forced to eat excrement, and so on. This simple idea provides many of Inferno\'s moments of spectacular imagery and symbolic power, but also serves to illuminate one of Dante\'s major themes: the perfection of God\'s justice. The inscription over the gates of Hell in Canto III explicitly states that God was moved to create Hell by "JUSTICE". Hell exists to punish sin, and the suitability of Hell\'s specific punishments give evidence to the divine perfection that all sin violates.


Perhaps the most important use of symbolism in Inferno involves the punishments of the sinners, which are always constructed so as to correspond to the sins that they committed in life. The Lustful, for example, who were blown about by passion in life, are now doomed to be blown about by a ferocious storm for all of time. Other major types of symbols include figures who represent human qualities, such as Virgil, representative of reason, and Beatrice, representative of spiritual love: settings that represent emotional states, such as the dark forest in Canto I.


The only character besides Dante to appear all the way through Inferno is Virgil. Virgil is taken to represent human reason, which guides and protects the individual through the world of sin. Virgil proves resolute and wise. He repeatedly protects Dante from hostile demons and monsters, from Charon to the Centaurs; when he appears powerless outside the gates of the city of Dis in Canto VIII, his helplessness appears very ominous, signifying that Lower Hell offers far darker dangers than Upper Hell. Virgil\'s reliance on the messenger in this scene also symbolizes the fact that reason is powerless without faith—an important tenet of Dante\'s moral philosophy and one that marks Inferno as a Christian poem. In the fullest sense of the word, Virgil acts as Dante\'s guide, showing him not only the physical route through Hell but also reinforcing its moral lessons. When Dante appears slow to learn these lessons—such as when he sympathizes with sinners or attempts to remain too long in one region of Hell—Virgil often grows impatient with him. Dante the character regards Virgil as his master, constantly swearing his admiration and trust in him.


Dante’s Inferno describes a spiritual passage of one man’s many realizations through the trials of hell.