The Divine Comedy is a narrative poem describing Dante's imaginary journey. Midway on his journey through life Dante realizes he has taken the wrong path. The Roman poet Virgil searches for the lost Dante at the request of Beatrice; he finds Dante in the woods on the evening of Good Friday in the year 1300 and serves as a guide as Dante begins his religious pilgrimage to find God. To reach his goal, Dante passes through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.
The Divine Comedy was not titled as such by Dante; his title for the work was simply Commedia or Comedy. Dante’s use of the word “comedy” is medieval by definition. To Dante and his contemporaries, the term “comedy” meant a tale with a happy ending, not a funny story as the word has since come to mean.
The Divine Comedy is made up of three parts, corresponding with Dante’s three journeys: Inferno, or “Hell”; Purgatorio, or “Purgatory”; and Paradiso, or “Paradise.” Each part consists of a prologue and approximately 33 cantos. Since the narrative poem is in an exalted form with a hero as its subject, it is an epic poem.
Dante and Virgil enter the wide gates of Hell and descend through the nine circles of Hell. In each circle they see sinners being punished for their sins on earth; Dante sees the torture as Divine justice. The sinners in the circles include:
Circle One - Those in limbo
Circle Two - The lustful
Circle Three - The gluttonous
Circle Four - The hoarders
Circle Five - The wrathful
Circle Six - The heretics
Circle Seven - The violent
Ring 1. Murderers, robbers, and plunderers
Ring 2. Suicides and those harmful to the world
Ring 3. Those harmful against God, nature, and art, as well as usurers
Circle Eight - The Fraudulent
Bowge (Trench) I. Panderers and Seducers
Bowge II. Flatterers
Bowge III. Simoniacs
Bowge IV. Sorcerers
Bowge V. Barrators
Bowge VI. Hypocrites
Bowge VII. Thieves
Bowge VIII. Counselors
Bowge IX. Sowers of Discord
Bowge X. Falsifiers
Circle Nine - Traitors
Region i: Traitors to their kindred
Region ii: Traitors to their country
Region iii: Traitors to their guests
Region iv: Traitors to their lords
On Easter Sunday, Dante emerges from Hell. Through his travels, he has found his way to God and is able, once more, to look upon the stars.
Estimated Reading Time
The average silent reading rate for a secondary student is 250 to 300 words per minute. Since each page contains approximately 11 stanzas of 27 words, the average number of words per page is 300 words. The words in Dante’s Inferno include many which most students have never heard or seen; since these words relate to the geography of a foreign country, people who are not well-known, and lesser mythological characters, students should adjust their reading rate accordingly. Since it is important that students consult the endnotes, glossary, and/or a dictionary, the reading rate will be slowed further.
Each page takes readers 2-3 minutes if they read carefully, consult the notes in the edition they are reading, use the dictionary or glossary regularly, and take notes for study purposes. Since there are 291 pages in the Penguin Classics edition, this means that the student will need 291 times 3 minutes, or 873 minutes (about 15 hours). It is evident, then, that the estimated reading time for this book is longer than for a typical narrative. Reading The Inferno according to the natural canto breaks is the best approach.