The one thing that many readers need to always remember is that associations between an author and his or her characters should not be immediately assumed. Many times, the author does not allow his or her own thoughts on something "color" the characters he or she creates. On the other hand, an author and character can be linked through numerous similarities. In regards to Dante Alighieri's Inferno, the poet and the character tend to act as complete opposites. Given that Dante the poet wrote the poem, readers must remember that he is providing some insight into his own personal beliefs (regardless of what his character does).
For example, in Canto XV, Dante (the character) comes upon his "friend" Brunetto Latini. Latini has been sentenced to the Seventh Circle (a place for those guilty of murder, suicide, sodomy, and usury). Dante, the character, is surprised to see Latini. The conversation between them is familial (with Dante referring to Latini as a father figure and Latini referring to Dante as "son").
Dante, the poet, (on the other hand), did believe Latini to be a sodomite. In some references, Dante is believed to have thought Latini was a homosexual. Given that he (Dante, the poet) placed Latini in hell in the first place illustrates what he actually thinks of him.
The importance of Dante as the poet and the character lies in his ability to show two very distinct sides to "himself," or at least a persona of himself. Perhaps Dante recognized that a better man would act as the character does, yet Dante himself proves to be far too set in his own ways to change. The character seems to give second chances, while the poet does not.