The Divine Comedy is a fourteenth-century epic poem written by the famed Italian poet Dante Alighieri. It consists of three parts: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Heaven). The first part, Inferno, tells the story of Dante himself, as he goes on a journey through Hell alongside his trusted friend Virgil. It is in this part that we first see the distinction between the two Dantes: Dante the Pilgrim and Dante the Poet.
Dante the Pilgrim is the one who actually goes on the journey through Hell. He is presented as a weak and emotional person who cannot resist temptation, and, just like every human, he is prone to sin. Thus, Dante the Pilgrim is the one to whom readers can relate. This is actually one of the main reasons why Dante makes a distinction between the Poet and the Pilgrim. Dante the Pilgrim is a character through whom the readers can indirectly experience the consequences of and the punishment for one’s sins and can see what will happen if they choose the path of evil instead of the path of righteousness.
Dante the Poet, on the other hand, is exactly that—a poet who writes about the Pilgrim’s experiences in Hell. He tries to tell the readers that if they make the wrong decisions and choices in life and don’t redeem themselves, they will go through the same things that the sinners go through. He is a stern, righteous, and incorruptible person, and he tries to make Dante the Pilgrim realize that his feelings and emotions won’t change the sinners’ fate, nor will they ease their punishments.
Thus, Dante the Poet feels confident in his decision to make the sinners suffer the consequences of their unjust and immoral actions. The Pilgrim, in contrast, is a very compassionate and empathetic person and pities the poor souls who are trapped in the nine circles of Hell. He is terrified by the cruel punishments and tries to understand how the sinners got there.
It is noteworthy to mention, however, that Dante the Poet creates and deliberately portrays Dante the Pilgrim the way that he is portrayed. He wants to showcase two versions of himself—one who is moral and unyielding and one who is sensitive and emotional. The Poet is always certain that he is right and that he has made the right decision; the Pilgrim is rarely certain about anything and often relies on his emotions.