Dante's Inferno Questions and Answers
by Dante Alighieri

Dante's Inferno book cover
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What's the main message of the book? Who was the audience? What is the impact of the context of the times on the message of the book, and how does Dante's personal context contribute to his rendering of this particular message?

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One of Dante's messages is his belief that various types of sin will have different consequ3encesz in the afterlife.  Of course, the religious control of almost all aspects of life during Dante's lifetime certainly played a part in his choosing his message.  However, The Inferno also allowed Dante to express personally what he felt were the worst sins and even more specifically whom he found to be the most egregious sinners from the past.

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edwardsv | Student

Acting as an allegory, Dante’s Inferno is one of three books that describes the possibility destinations for souls in the afterlife. Specifically, the Inferno guides Dante’s audience through the nine circles of hell, describing the corresponding punishments that await sins in the afterlife.

One of the possible purposes behind the Inferno is to create an organized framework behind the workings of hell that was lacking in his time. This is seen in his characterization of the sinner’s symbolic punishments. Each crime receives a fitting punishment-- an eye for an eye system of justice. For example, the people who commited suicide are turned into trees. Their bodies are feasted on by harpies and when it is time for the final judgment, they will not get to return to their body. This punishment is “fitting” in that they rejected their bodies in their waking life. The Inferno also provides an explanation for the fates of people who were not saved before the coming of Christ. For example, Plato and Aristotle are shown to be in the first circle of Hell. This is also where Virgil, Dante’s guide, resides. Because these men lived before the time of Christ, they could not be saved. However, they are not guilty of any sinful behavior either. So, Dante portrays these characters as living in a state that resembles a lesser version of heaven, even though it is still technically in Hell.

Dante also uses Inferno to critique the cultural, social, and political environment of Florence. During Dante’s lifetime, Florence was engulfed in political turmoil, partially caused by the Guelphs and Ghibellines conflict. He conceived of the Inferno after being in political exile. The organization of sin in the Inferno gave Dante an opportunity to criticize the sins he saw being committed in Florence. For example, the further in a circle is in Hell, the more serious the sin is. Dante places people who commited a crime against the state further in Hell than a person who commited suicide. Dante takes this to such an extreme as to place his living contemporaries in his construction of Hell.

One of the reasons the Divine Comedy is so highly regarded is that instead of using Latin, it employed a literary language (Dante called it Italian) that could be read by many different groups of people including other poets, laymen, and clergymen. While establishing Italian as a language that could grapple with heavy philosophical concepts, Dante also allowed his more “practical” layout of the afterlife and criticism of Florence’s culture to be more available to people, despite their class.

ccarr7 | Student

I agree with the above post as the meaning of writing the Inferno was the consequences of one's sins while living. It can also be seen as one's punishment by their own doing, which is similar to what was stated before. It seems as though he was trying to scare those who were doing wrong or not very religious to become so or else "these" (happenings when passed) would happen to you.

baihegborow | Student

How successful was Dante in putting across his message?