Dante: Excerpts from Inferno
in The Divine Comedy
terza rima, purgatory, contrapassio, vernacular, canto,
rhyme, fourfold interpretation
Lecture or Handouts: What
is the Italian word for Hell? What is the difference between
Hell and Purgatory in medieval belief?
Introduction: How many
cantos are in the Divine Comedy as a whole? How many
subsection--the Inferno, the Purgatorio,
and the Paradiso? What happened in 1302 that
ensured Dante would never get to see his hometown of
Identify the Following Primary
Characters, Monsters and Places from The Inferno.
Gemma Donati (in Introduction), Beatrice Portinari (in
Introduction); Dante the pilgrim, the three beasts on the
road, Virgil, Minos, Francesca da Rimini and Paulo,
the Medusa, the Three Furies, the Angelic Gatekeeper, Ugolino,
Ugolino's son Anselm, Ugolino's son Gaddo, Satan, Brutus,
Cassius, Judas Iscariot
Explain the Significance of
the Following and How Each Relates to Dante's poem
terza rima, the number three, contrapassio,
- CANTO I: At what point in Dante's
life does he "lose his way" on the path of righteousness?
- When Dante tries to travel upward toward the beautiful
mountain and leave the dark valley behind, what animal
blocks his path at first?
- When Dante tries to go around that beast, what second
animal appears and blocks his path?
- When he tries yet again to get around that second beast,
what third animal blocks his path?
- Dante then sees a spirit in the desert, and asks this
spirit for help. This spirit offers to guide him through
Hell. Who is Dante's guide through hell? Why does
he make a suitable guide for Dante?
- Where have we seen this spirit-guide character before
as a historical figure?
- Virgil claims that he has been exiled in this location
because he was rebellious to the laws of "That Emperor
who reigns above." Of whom is Virgil speaking?
- CANTO V: In Canto V, they meet the
judge who assigns sinners to various places in Hell. What
is this judge's name? What does this judge do with his
tail to indicate how far down in Hell the sinner must
- What does Virgil tell to Minos in order to convince
him to let Virgil and Dante pass?
- How are illicit lovers ("carnal malefactors")
punished in their ring of Hell? Who are some of these
- When Dante wants to speak to some of the lovers, Virgil
says he can call them down by imploring them "by
[XXX]." By what force or name does Dante implore
the lovers to come down? Why is that appropriate, given
the nature of their sins?
- The lover that speaks with Dante in Canto V says she
has "stained the world incarnadine" through
her sins. What does she mean, and how does this relate
to Christian beliefs about the forgiveness of sins?
- According to Francesca, what was she reading when she
first gave into desire?
- CANTO IX: In Canto 9, Dante
and Virgil approach the city of Dis at the center of hell.
They encounter the Three Furies or Erinyes here. What
are these three beings? (Consult a mythological dictionary,
encyclopedia, or look online for this information.)
- What physical actions do the Three Furies take as they
confront the two pilgrims Virgil and Dante? What do those
gestures and actions suggest about their state of mind?
- Why does Virgil turn Dante away and cover his eyes as
the Medusa approaches? Why is he so afraid of her?
- Who opens the gates to Dis so that Virgil and Dante
can enter? What tool does he use to push open the doors?
- How does the Angelic messenger react to the air in Hell
as he breathes?
- In lines 110-120 of Canto 9, we hear what structures
make up the city of Hell. What structures are visible
everywhere with flame scattered between them?
- CANTO XXXIII: In Canto 33, Dante and
Virgil encounter Ugolino frozen in ice. What is Ugolino
- How did Ugolino and his sons die in Pisa?
- How does Ugolino spend all eternity? What is his food?
- What does Dante promise to Friar Alberigo in hell? How
does he fulfill his promise? (trick question!)
- What is Friar Alberigo's body and Ser Branca d'Oria's
body doing while their souls are in hell? Who or what
does Alberigo claim is controlling these bodies?
- CANTO XXXIV: What is the temperature
like in the center of hell?
- When they cross over past the fog of freezing mist,
Dante sees something he first thinks is a giant windmill.
What is this windmill in actuality?
- What is the source of the cold winds in hell that rhythmically
blow outward from the center ring?
- Describe Satan's body and appearance. What are some
of his distinctive features in The Inferno?
- What three things does Satan snack on?
- When Virgil and Dante run between Satan's beating wings,
Virgil stops and puts his feet on the ceiling
and appears to turn upside down. What happened that allowed
him to do this astonishing feat, and how is this connected
to their location at the center of the earth?
- When Dante looks upward/downward to gaze at Satan, what
does he see that horrifies him? Why is this funny?
Sample Quotations for Identification:
Be able to identify what work these quotations come from,
author is, what character (if any) is speaking, and briefly
comment upon the quotations significance or importance
A: Midway upon the journey of our life
/ I found myself within a forest dark, / For the straightforward
pathway had been lost. / . . . I cannot repeat how there
I entered, So full was I of slumber at the moment / In which
I had abandoned the true way."
B: And lo! almost where the ascent began, / a panther light and swift exceedingly, which with a spotted skin was covered o'er!/ And never moved she from my face, Nay, rather did impede so much my way, / That many times I to return had turned.
C: "Not man; man once I was, / And both my parents were of Lombardy, / And Mantuans by country both of them. 'Sub Julio' was I born,though it was late, And lived at Rome under the good Augustus, During the time of false and lying gods. . . / But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?/ Why climb'st thou not the Mount Delectable, / Which is the source and cause of every joy?"
D: "Now, art thou that Virgilius
and that fountain / Which spreads abroad so wide a river
of speech?" / I made response to him with bashful
forehead. / . . . / Thou art my master, and my author
thou, / Thou
art alone the one from whom I took/ The beautiful style
that has done honor to me."
E: "There standeth Minos horribly, and snarls; Examines the transgressions at the entrance; Judges, and sends according as he girds him. / I say, that when the spirit evil-born / Cometh before him, wholly it confesses; And this discriminator of transgressions / Seeth what place in Hell is meet for it; Girds himself with his tail as many times / As grades he wishes it should be thrust down."
F: "I came into a place mute of all light, Which bellows as the sea does in a tempest . . . / The infernal hurricane that never rests / Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine. . . ./ I understood that unto such a torment / The carnal malefactors were condemned / Who reason subjugate to appetite."
G: "One day we reading were for our delight / Of Launcelot, how Love did him enthral. Alone we were and without any fear. / Full many a time our eyes together drew / That reading, and drove the colour from our faces. . . ./ When we read of the much-longed for smile / Being by such a noble lover kissed, / This one, who ne'er from me shall be divided, / Kissed me on the mouth all palpitating. / Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it. / That day no farther did we read therein.
H: More than a thousand ruined souls I
saw, / Thus feeling from before one who on foot / Was passing
o'er the Styx with soles unwet. / From off his face he fanned
that unctuous air, / Waving his left hand oft in front of
him / And only with that anguish seemed he weary. / Well
I perceived one sent from Heaven was he. . .
I: His mouth uplifted from his grim repast, / That sinner, wiping it upon the hair / Of the same head that he behind had wasted. . . Then he began . . . "If my words be seed that may bear fruit / Of infamy to the traitor whom I gnaw, / Speaking and weeping shalt thou see together. / I know not who thou art, nor by what mode / Thou hast come down here; but a Florentine / Thou seemest to me truly when I hear thee. / Thou hast to know I was Count Ugolino, / And this one was Ruggieri the Archbishop..."When he had said this, with his eyes distorted, / The wretched skull resumed he with his teeth, / Which, as a dog's, upon the bone were strong."
J: And one of the wretches of the frozen
crust / Cried out to us: "O souls so merciless . .
. Lift from mine eyes the rigid veils, that I may vent the
sorrow which impregns my heart / A little, e'er the weeping
recongeal /. . . / But hitherward stretch out thy
hand forthwith, / Open mine eyes;"--and open them I
did not, / And to be rude to him was courtesy.
K: The Emperor of the kingdom dolorous / From his
mid-breast forth issued from the ice; / And better with
a giant I compare / Than do the giants with those arms of
his/ . . . What a marvel it appeared to me, When I beheld
three faces on his head!
L: I lifted up mine eyes and thought to see / Lucifer
in the same way I had left him; / And upward I beheld
hold his legs. / And if I then became disquieted, / Let
stolid people think who do not see / What the point is
I had passed.