What do you think was Dante's purpose in writing Inferno?  

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dante wrote The Divine Comedy during a period of personal and political upheaval, and the work reflects many of the issues in Florentine political life, literary history, and Dante's personal life.

On a political level, Italy at this period was not unified—unification was not completed until 1871—but instead consisted of various small states often involved in rivalries against each other or affiliations with different larger European states. Florence, Dante's native city, was caught up in a contest between two factions know as the the Guelphs and Ghibellines, with the Guelphs tending to support the papacy and the Ghibellines supporting the Holy Roman Emperor.

Dante supported the Guelphs. They triumphed in Florence but then fractured into two factions, the black Guelphs, who were strong supporters of Pope Boniface VIII, and the white Guelphs, who were opposed to some of his policies. Dante and the white Guelphs were on the losing side, which resulted in Dante's exile from Florence. Many of the people who populate the Inferno are Dante's political opponents. Some appear under their own names and some appear under pseudonyms. Thus, the poem is partly intended as revenge for Dante's exile, and it also serves as a critique of clerical and political corruption. Thus, personal and political motives mingle in the poem. 

Next, in De vulgari eloquentia, Dante argues for the possibility of creating great epic literature in the vernacular. The Divine Comedy is written in Italian and is an example of the sort of national vernacular epic Dante advocated. 

iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like the rest of The Divine Comedy, Dante's Inferno is a vast work encompassing many ideas, questions, and themes. However, Dante had a few major reasons for writing this first part of his epic poem. First of all, Dante wanted to write an account of the search for spiritual atonement and salvation, and this desire drew heavily from Dante's own experiences. Dante was living in exile while writing Inferno and so, much like his poetic counterpart, he felt like he had lost his way and needed direction. In that case, Inferno is in many ways Dante's attempt to work through his own feelings of being lost and unsure of himself, especially in spiritual terms. Secondly, Inferno is a critique of the corruption of both the Catholic Church and Italian government, especially the government of his native Florence. Many of the tortured souls that Dante encounters in Hell were actually real people, and many of them were high ranking Italian politicians or Catholic Church officials. Thus, Dante uses the poem as a method of critiquing the most powerful Italians of his day, and so the poem is not only an account of a spiritual journey, but also an attempt to motivate real social change and reform by exposing the wrongdoings of those in power. 

Joshua Taylor | Student

       The purpose of Dante's The Devine Comedy was to act as a critique of Italian government at the time. The Inferno is the first of three parts of The Devine Comedy and is intended to display sin in a revolutionary new way, hierarchically. Dante, through his portrayal of the nine circles in Hell, conveys the different sins punishable by an eternity of hell while also ranking them in severity. Dante the pilgrim (the character in the story) witnesses these sins, and their related punishments, and judges them with reason and sympathy. This represents the Italian governing style of the time (controlled mostly by the Church), which was one of growing leniency to the Christian followers. But along his way through Hell, Dante comes to realize that sins are punished by God and that this is "right". This is the initial critique, representing his feelings toward the sin of the Church controlled government and their followers. That sins will be punished by God without remorse, and the only way to not be punished is to commit to a life of God by returning to Christian values. The important thing to take away is that the Church was developing it's own set of what are sins, and how they will be punished. Dante, in essence, says NO! We need to return to core Christian beliefs and values, and in his Inferno gives a very descriptive representation of what will happen if not.