Click below for a link to the biography of Dante Alghieri:12 things you didn't know about "The Thinker":Dante extra notes: Link to other articles about Dante and about the political parties: the Guelfi and the Ghibillini:
Outline of Inferno -- Canto by Canto
Canto I -- First Dante describes an undefined forest, then a hiss lighted by the spring sunshine, then three beast that stop him from climbing it, and finally Virgil appears to tell him how he can overcome the beasts. The entire description is presented through images resembling the logic of a dream.
Canto II -- After the traditional invocation to the Muses, Dante begins the narrative. But first he has to clear his doubts about the validity of this journey, for he fears that he may be heading for failure. Virgil assures him that the journey is favored by three heavenly Ladies, the Virgin Mary, St. Lucia, and Beatrice. The latter summoned Virgil to go out of Limbo and rescue Dante form the three beasts.
Canto III -- Dante enters the Gates of Hell. He find himself in a vestibule, an area reserved for the souls of those who never made any decisions, the Neutrals. Here Dante recognizes one who was known to having made a "great refusal." Dante then reaches the shore of the first infernal river, Acheron. Here Charon picks up the damned who keep falling down to ferry them to other side, to Hell.
Canto IV -- First circle of Hell: Limbo. This is the place for the souls of those who were good people, but did not know Christ. And here Dante encounters the ancient philosophers. The most important episode is when Dante and Virgil are joined by four ancient poets: Homer, Horace, Ovid, Lucan. Together they talk about poetry.
Canto V -- Second circle of Hell: Lustful. This is one of the most popular cantos of the Commedia. It has captured the attention of many scholars since Dante’s times, mainly because Dante finds here among the lustful: Francesca da Rimini. Among other sinners, Dido, queen of Cartage. Minos is the guardian of the circle. Theme: Courtly Love.
Canto VI -- Third circle of Hell: Gluttons: The setting of the third circle is again visual and graphical: heavy, steady rain, hail and snow. It is monotonous, never ending, and weakens the souls to the extent that they lay down because they have no strength to rise. This monotony becomes an obsession. Dante talks to Ciacco, a Florentine, who predicts Dante's upcoming exile. Cerberus, a three-headed dog, is the guardian of the circle.
Canto VII -- Fourth and Fifth circles: The Avaricious and Prodigals are in the fourth circle, then the two poets descent into the fifth circle, the Wrathful and the Sullen, who are in the river Styx. These sinners push huge rocks in opposite direction. Dante notices that most of them are clerics, but he does recognize any of them. The demon Plutus stands as the guardian of the circle. The second part of the canto describes the descent into a marshland, the river Stix, where the wrathful are visible, and the sullen are submerged by the water.
Canto VIII -- Fifth circle and the City of Dis. This canto has two sections: the conclusion of the representation of the Wrathful and the Sullen, which includes the poet’s encounter with Filippo Argenti; the second part of the canto describes the presentation of the city of Dis. This city is modeled after medieval cities, surrounded by walls, with the gates to allow people in and out.
Canto IX -- The City of Dis - Entrance into Lower Hell. The major characteristic of this canto is the confrontation between Dante and the forces of evil. They are represented by the three Erinyes: Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. Eventually the invoke Medusa whose evil power is so powerful that anyone who look at her is changed into stone. When everything seems lost, a Messenger form Heaven comes, and orders the devils to open the gate of Dis. Dante and Virgil enter the city and find themselves into a huge cemetery (circle 6).
Canto X -- Sixth Circle: The Heretics (Epicureans): The are placed into open tombs. The main characters are: Farinata degli Uberti and Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti. Themes: 1) Farinata’s prediction of Dante’s difficulty in returning to Florence from exile, 2. Cavalcante’s misunderstanding of Dante’s remark on his son, the poet Guido. 3) The inability of the damned to see the present, although they can foresee the future.
Canto XI -- Programmatic canto, The structure of Hell. Still in the sixth circle. There is a reference to Pope Anastasius’ tomb, but the main issue is Virgil’s exposition of the structure of Hell. This canto is a doctrinal digression on the physical and moral division of Hell. It is a programmatic canto in which Dante outlines the Aristotelian conception of sins into the three categories: Incontinence, Violence, Bestiality (fraud).
Canto XII -- Seventh circle, first ring. Violent Against Others. The mythical monster who guards the circle is the Minotaur who, being half human half beast, symbolizes the entire lower hell. Also here we find the Centaurs, mythical creatures — half man half horses —. They characterize the first section of the seventh circle. They are led by Chiron, who orders Nessus to guide Dante and Virgil across the boiling river of blood, the Phlegethon. In this river of boiling blood, we find Tyrants and Murderers; they are punished by the arrows of the Centaurs.
Canto XIII -- Seventh circle, second ring. Violent Against Self (Suicides, Squanderers). The setting is made up of a dreary wood populated by the Harpies. The Suicides have been transformed into strange trees. The Squanderers, on the other hand, are hounded and ripped apart by bitches. The main characters are, Pier delle Vigne among the Suicides. He was a notary at the court of Frederick II, was accused of treason and jailed. He killed himself because he could bear the shame of being in prison. Two Florentines, Lano and Jacopo da Santo Andrea among the Squanderers.
Canto XIV -- Seventh circle, third ring. First Zone: Violent against God. The Violent against God (Blasphemers) are lying down on the burning sand under a rain of fire flakes. The main character of this canto is Capaneus, one of the most significant examples of the nature of hell's punishment: Hell is internal suffering.. In the second part of the canto Virgil tells Dante the myth of the Old Man of Crete, a grotesque statue, whose streaming eyes form the rivers of Hell, Acheron, Phlegethon, Styx, and Cocytus.
Canto XV -- Seventh circle, third ring. Second zone: Violent Against Nature. This canto centers on the figure of Brunetto Latini. These souls are endlessly running throughout the fiery sands beneath the rain of fire. The main character, Brunetto Latini had been chancellor of Florence and also Dante’s mentor and teacher in his early life. Dante sees him as a father figure.
Canto XVI -- Still in the third ring of the seventh circle. Dante sees three Florentines, Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldombrandino and Jacopo Rusticucci, who appears to be Sodomite (homosexual). Theme: Decadence of the city of Florence. The canto ends with the river Phlegethon cascading into the next zone. Virgil summons a monstrous figure and uses Dante belt as a bait to entice it to come.
Canto XVII -- Passage from the seventh circle, to the eighth circle on the back of Geryon. As Virgil is coming to an agreement with the monster, Dante encounters the Usurers, who are seated beneath the rain of fire with a purse — bearing the family’s heraldic emblem — around their necks. The canto ends with the descent into the eight circle.
Canto XVIII -- The eighth circle is called Malebolge (evil pouches, or ditches). This place is reserved to the sin of fraud. This canto deals with the first two ditches: 1) the Seducers , who are scourged by horned demons. Among the characters Dante sees here are Venedico Caccianemico (a contemporary) and Jason (from mythology). The second ditch is reserved to the Flatterers, who are immersed in excrements. Here Dante sees Alessio Interminei (a contemporary) and Thais (from mythology).
Canto XIX -- Third ditch of the eight circle. This section is reserved to the Simonists, that is, those who bought and sold sacred objects and positions. These sinners are set heads down into holes in the rock, with their feet coming out of the hole tormented by flames. Main character: Pope Nicholas III, who refers to Pope Boniface VIII and Pope Clement V. The canto closes with Dante’s invective against the simonist popes. Theme of the canto: Corruption of the Church.
Canto XX -- Fourth ditch of the eight circle. Diviners, Astrologers and Magicians. These souls have their heads turned backward. It is the law of retribution applied to them: now they can only see backward while in their lives they believed to see ahead in the future. Among the characters: Amphiaraus, Tiresias, Aruns and Manto, whose presence leads Virgil to explains the origin of Mantua, his native city. Among the contemporaries, Michael Scot.
Canto XXI-XXII -- Eighth circle, fifth ditch. The Barrators. These sinners are plunged into boiling pitch and guarded by winged demons armed with pitchforks and prongs. In canto XXI, a new magistrate has just arrived from the city of Lucca. Ten demons are in charge over these sinners; they are led by Malacoda (evil-tail); who is the chief of the Malebranche (evil claws). The episode continues in canto XXII, with Ciampolo of Navarre, in a devilish contest, succeeds in outsmarting the winged demons. Dante and Virgil are abused by the devils, who like the sinners in this section, are untrustworthy.
Canto XXIII -- End of the fifth ditch: The demons, scorned by Ciampolo fight against each other. Then they chase the two poets. Virgil helps Dante by pushing him down the Sixth Ditch, where the Hypocrites walk slowly in a long file, clothed in caps of led. Two Jovial Friars of Bologna, Catalano and Loderigo are among these sinners. Caiaphas is stretched down in the figure of a cross with the others walking over him. Also, in this canto Virgil expresses his distress at Malacoda’s deceitfulness.
Canto XXIV-XXV -- XXIV: Hard Passage to the Seventh Ditch and presentation the Thieves. One of them, Vanni Fucci is bitten by a serpent, turns into ashes, and then is restored. Vanni predicts the defeat of the Whites, Dante’s political party, at Pistoia. XXV: Vanni Fucci’s episodes concludes with his obscene gesture against God. Other characters in canto XXV include the centaur Cacus and Five Florentines, three of them human, two of them serpents. The episode end with the astounding metamorphoses undergone by four of them. Themes: Impotence of the damned souls, and disintegration of the human shape (interchange with snakes). This narrative was inspired by medieval black magic.
Canto XXVI -- Eighth circle, eighth ditch: The Fraudulent Counselors are clothed in the flames that burn them. One of these flames, with two points, is shared by Ulysses and Diomedes. The canto’s main interest is in Ulysses’s account of his last days. He is presented as a defeated hero, who searches knowledge, but ends in defeat because he is backed spiritual means. He seeks knowledge for knowledge's sake.
Canto XVII -- Still the eighth circle, eighth ditch: The Fraudulent Counselors. After Ulysses takes his leave, Dante hears the story of Guido da Montefeltro, who gives the poet the opportunity to talk about the political affairs of Romagna. Guido tells how he, being a master of deceit, was deceitfully deceived by Pope Boniface VIII, who absolved him of a sin he was about to commit. This leads to a dispute between St. Francis and a devil over Guido’s soul. Needless to say, the devil wins, and Guido ends in hell.
Canto XVIII -- Eighth circle, ninth ditch. The Sower of Scandal and Schism. These souls are continually walking by, wounded by demons with swords — and after healing they are wounded again. Here Dante recognizes many, and talks to some. The poetry of horror returns. The best example is given by Beltran de Bornio, who is holding his severed head like a lantern. Dante sees him as the most effective example of the contrapasso (law of retribution).
Canto XIX-XXX -- Last section of the eighth circle: after the episode with Geri del Bello, a cousin of Dante, the poets see the Falsifiers, divided into groups: 1) Falsifiers of Metals (Alchemists) in canto XXIX; and in canto XXX: 2) falsifiers of persons, Gianni Schicchi, and Myrrah; 3) falsifiers of coins makes up the third group with Master Adam, and 4) Falsifiers of Words: (the Liars) Sinon the Greek. The scene resembles a huge hospital, as all sinners show a sign of illness.
Canto XXXI -- Passage to the ninth circle. The lowest section of hell located in the last river, the frozen Cocytus. In this canto we have a presentation of the Giants, who characterize the last circle One of them, Antheus complies with Virgil’s request and lowers the two poets on the surface of the frozen river. The ninth circle is divided into four sections.
Canto XXXII -- Ninth circle, first ring, called Caina. Here are the Traitors of their kins, immersed in ice, heads bent down. Among them is Carmiscione dei Pazzi. The Second Ring, called Antenora, contains the traitors of their country. Dante approaches Bocca degli Abati, who is reluctant to reveal his identity. The canto ends with the revolting sight of two sinners stuck together, one devouring the other’s head.
Canto XXXIII -- Ninth circle, second and third rings. Count Ugolino tells the story of his and his sons’ death in a Pisan prison, and he blames the archbishop Ruggeri (the one whose head he devours) for his fate. His tale is followed by Dante’s invective against Pisa. The Third Ring, Ptolomea, holds the traitors against their Guests. Their heads come out of the ice, and their eyes are sealed by frozen tears. Here Dante sees two sinners, Fra’ Alberigo and Branca Doria, who are still alive, but already in Hell. The theological issue is how can one be alive and already in hell.
Canto XXXIV -- End of Inferno. First part: fourth ring of the ninth circle, Judecca, site of the Traitors of benefactors. The are fully covered by ice. At the center of the frozen lake is Lucifer, the emperor of the kingdom of Hell. This giant monster has three faces, with its three mouths chewing three sinners: Juda, Brutus and Cassius. His six wings generate the icy breeze that freezes the Cocytus. Dante and Virgil descend through Lucifer’s body, to the southern hemisphere. Then they climb up to exit the darkness and see the morning stars.