Dante's Inferno Characters
The main characters in Inferno are Dante, Virgil, Beatrice, and Lucifer.
- Dante, the epic’s central character, embarks on a spiritual quest after erring in life. Dante is also the author of Inferno.
- Virgil is an ancient Roman poet who guides Dante through the circles of hell.
- Beatrice, Dante’s beloved, asks Virgil to find Dante and guide him on his way.
- Lucifer is the prince of hell. He takes the form of a giant with three faces.
Last Updated on January 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3752
The following characters in Dante’s Inferno are organized by the circle of hell in which they appear. Within each circle, the characters are ordered by canto.
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In the Divine Comedy, there are three Dantes: Dante the author, Dante the narrator, and Dante the protagonist This can cause frequent confusion in conversations about the epic, which inevitably entail the choices and movements of Dante. The question that follows is, “But which Dante?”
- First, there is the historical Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), the Tuscan poet and statesman who wrote the epic poem between 1307 and 1320.
- Second, there is Dante the narrator, whose voice, storytelling choices, and memories permeate the text of the poem.
- The third Dante is the poem’s protagonist, who traverses the three realms of the afterlife in the company of Virgil and Beatrice.
The subtle but significant gulf between Dante the narrator and Dante the protagonist reveals itself as early as the second stanza of Inferno. Describing the “savage woods” in which the poem begins, Dante the narrator almost immediately intrudes into the narrative. He remarks that his memory of the woods makes his original fear of it return. This remark foregrounds the distance—in terms of both time and reality—between Dante the protagonist and Dante the narrator. That is to say, the protagonist is a fabrication of the narrator’s design, a personal memory spun into verse.
Although this gap between narrator and protagonist may make the protagonist seem less real, Dante uses the technique to bolster the poem’s reality and shore up its supernatural claims. The narrator frequently interjects at the beginning of cantos to remark that the ensuing events are so wild or fearsome that words fail to describe them. Of course, much in Inferno is entirely fantastical, so Dante’s insistence that words fail him constitutes a clever gambit to give the fantastical a sheen of reality—baffling reality, but reality nonetheless.
Dante, as the poem’s protagonist and narrator, appears to be a reflection of the historical Dante Alighieri. Like Alighieri, the fictional Dante is born in 1265 and is a poet. The fictional Dante is, like Alighieri, a devout Catholic and a White Guelph, and he makes his religious and political allegiances known throughout Inferno. While Dante strives for goodness, his pride and tempestuousness often eclipse his propriety. In canto 4, Dante is consumed by pride when he counts himself among the retinue of six canonical poets. In canto 8, he becomes enraged at Filippo Argenti, losing all self-control. These haughty, fiery attributes make Dante a more complex character than the perfectly pious man one might expect to find in a religious allegory.
Virgil (70–19 BCE), whose full name is Publius Vergilius Maro, is an ancient Roman poet who lived during Augustus’s reign at the turn of the first millennium. During his life, he was favored by Emperor Augustus. He is known for his moral seriousness and formal perfectionism. His three major works are the Eclogues, the Georgics, and his masterpiece, The Aeneid. The Aeneid, modelled after the Iliad and The Odyssey, tells the myth of Rome’s founding, tracing the journey of the hero Aeneas from Troy to Italy.
Virgil is a fitting guide and mentor to Dante for several reasons. Upon their meeting in the first canto, Dante praises Virgil lavishly, comparing him to a fountain that pours forth a great river of words. He praises the Roman poet as a master whose works Dante has studied intently. Dante and Virgil’s shared vocation as poets provides them a kinship from the start.
Virgil is also an apt guide through hell because of the nature of his own writing. In book 6 of his masterpiece, The Aeneid, the titular Aeneas descends into the underworld. There, he meets his father, Anchises, in Elysium and hears the prophecy of the city he is meant to build. Along the way, Aeneas encounters several of the same obstacles as Dante in Inferno: the gates of Dis; Styx, Phlegethon, Acheron, and Cocytus; and monsters such as Cerberus, Geryon, the centaurs, and the harpies. Virgil’s epic guided Dante’s imagination in composing Inferno, just as the fictional Virgil guides the fictional Dante through hell.
Finally, Virgil is the right guide for Dante because of his status as a soul in Limbo. He thus stands in a liminal place; he is in hell yet not in hell. On the one hand, he is a shade who is familiar with the workings of hell and its rough, convoluted geography. On the other hand, he is free of the worst of hell, spared from the deepest circles and their dreadful punishments.
For much of Inferno, Virgil takes a fatherly stance toward Dante, looking out for his safety and scolding him for his misjudgments and missteps. While Dante uses words to express his thoughts and fears, Virgil often relies on physicality, using his body to protect and guide Dante.
The Dark Woods
The leopard is the first character Dante meets. It is often said to represent the sin of self-indulgence.
The lion is the second character Dante meets. It is often said to represent the sin of violence.
The she-wolf is the third character Dante meets. It is often said to represent the sin of malice.
Beatrice is Dante’s beloved, a woman who represents heavenly wisdom. Later in the Divine Comedy, she takes over Virgil’s role as Dante’s guide. In canto 2 of Inferno, Virgil recounts how Beatrice implored him to rescue Dante.
The Virgin Mary
By Virgil’s account, the Virgin Mary—along with Beatrice and St. Lucia—asked Virgil to help Dante in his time of need.
As Virgil tells Dante, St. Lucia joined Beatrice and the Virgin Mary in soliciting Virgil to help Dante.
Charon is the white-haired boatman of Greek lore. He takes travelers, including Dante and Virgil, across the Acheron River into hell.
Homer is a Greek poet who wrote the Iliad and The Odyssey. He is one of the classical poets with whom Dante and Virgil walk in Limbo.
Horace is a leading Roman poet of the first century BCE, best known for his lyrics and odes. He is one of the classical poets with whom Dante and Virgil walk in Limbo.
Ovid is a Roman poet active during the reign of Augustus at the turn of the first millennium. His masterpiece is the Metamorphoses. He is one of the classical poets with whom Dante and Virgil walk in Limbo.
Lucan is a Roman poet from the early Imperial era. In his short life, he produced a number of historical epics. He is one of the classical poets with whom Dante and Virgil walk in Limbo.
Julius Caesar is a Roman statesman who transformed the republic into an empire during the first century BCE.
Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates
Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates are ancient Athenian philosophers. Together, they laid the groundwork for Western philosophy and were immensely influential among the philosophers and theologians of medieval Europe.
Francesca and Paolo
Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta are an adulterous Florentine couple killed by Francesca’s husband, Gianciotto, who was also Paolo’s brother. They describe their sins to Dante. They are punished by being buffeted by great winds in the Second Circle of hell.
Minos is a legendary king of Crete who occupies the threshold of the Second Circle and assigns places to the incoming damned. The number of times Minos’s tail wraps around his body indicates the number of the circle that each new sinner is sent to.
Cerberus is the three-headed dog that watches over the gluttonous sinners of the Third Circle. Virgil throws mud in Cerberus’s mouth to slip by safely.
Ciacco is a gluttonous male inhabitant of Florence. His name means “pig.” He discusses Florentine politics with Dante, predicting the expulsion of the White Guelphs. He wallows in mud with the other gluttons in the Third Circle.
Plutus is a Greek god of the underworld. He is situated at the entrance to the Fourth Circle. Because he is the god of material wealth, he guards over the realm of the greedy.
Phlegyas is a ferryman on the River Styx, which constitutes the Fifth Circle. He delivers Dante and Virgil across.
Filippo Argenti is a Florentine resident who, in life, differed politically with Dante. Argenti is a Black Guelph, whereas Dante is a White Guelph. He is mired in the River Styx with the other wrathful souls.
An angel arrives to help Virgil and Dante by magically opening the gates of the City of Dis, which are discouragingly impenetrable. The angel was possibly sent by St. Paul.
Heretics burn in the open graves of the Sixth Circle. Their sin is having believed that the soul dies with the body, a materialist view that opposes Church doctrine.
Medusa is an evil, serpent-haired Greek monster whose gaze can turn people to stone. She harasses Dante and Virgil at the gates of the City of Dis.
The three furies are Queen Medusa’s handmaids. Their names are Alecto, Magaera, and Tisiphone.
Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti
Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti is a shade who was once a member of the Guelph party and an ally of Dante’s. He suffers in the Sixth Circle for being a heretic.
Farinata degli Uberti
Farinata was a leader of the Ghibellines, the party responsible for killing Dante’s grandfather. Farinata favored imperial authority. He is punished among the heretics in the Sixth Circle.
Centaurs are creatures with the heads of men and the bodies of horses. They patrol the First Ring of the Seventh Circle, firing arrows at those who try to escape the boiling pitch.
Chiron is the chief of the centaurs and a figure from Greek mythology.
The Minotaur is the Minoan beast with the head of a bull and the body of a man. He guards the entrance to the Seventh Circle.
Nessus is a centaur who tried to carry off Deianira, the wife of Hercules. His blood, which spilled onto Hercules’s shirt, caused Hercules so much pain that Hercules burned to death.
The violent sinners are guilty of violence against neighbors, self, God, art, and nature. They receive various punishments in the Seventh Circle.
Harpies are voracious creatures with the bodies of birds and the heads of women. They are situated in the Second Ring of the Seventh Circle, where they harass the grove of suicides.
Pier delle Vigne
Pier delle Vigne was accused of plotting against Frederick II. Vigne took his own life after being blinded and imprisoned. Because Pier is in the Seventh—not the Fifth—Circle, Dante deems that he must be guilty of suicide, not betrayal.
“Two that ran”
In the Second Ring of the Seventh Circle, the “two that ran” refers to Lano of Siena, who sold his estates with other young men in a club and who wasted his money and life, and Jacomo di Sant Andrea, who burned his own home for fun. Lano’s and Jacomo’s crimes fall under the rubric of “violence against self,” thus sentencing them to the Seventh Circle. However, they are not suicides. Thus, they are fated to run and crash through the grove of suicides instead of becoming trees themselves.
Blasphemers are those who commit violence against God in the form of their opinions and utterances. They lie in scorching sand in the Third Ring of the Seventh Circle.
Geryon is the monster from the circles of fraud. In Greek mythology, he was killed by Hercules. He has the face of a man, the body of a reptilian beast, and a stinging tail.
Alessio Interminei is, like Dante, a White Guelph. He is suspended in excrement in the Second Bolgia of the Eighth Circle for being a flatterer with slick manners.
Jason is the legendary Greek hero who led the Argonauts in search of the golden fleece of Colchis. He is whipped by demons in the First Bolgia of the Eighth Circle for having seduced and abandoned Medea.
Venedico Caccianemico is a member of the Guelphs who sold his own sister to a local nobleman. Categorized as a panderer, he is whipped for eternity in the First Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
Simoniacs are those guilty of simony, the corrupt sale of church favors, pardons, and offices. The simoniacs, including Pope Nicholas III, are buried head-first in the ground with flames licking their feet. They are in the Third Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
Barrators are those who make money by selling public offices. They float in a pool of boiling pitch and are kept under by the Malebranche. They are in the Fifth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
The Malebranche, which translates to “Evil Claws,” are the demons who guard the Fifth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle. They guard the barrators, keeping them below the surface of the pool of boiling pitch. Their leader is Malacoda, and their ranks include Alichino, Barbariccia, Cagnazzo, Calcabrina, Ciriatto, Draghignazzo, Farfarello, Graffiacane, Libicocco, Rubicante, and Scarmiglione.
The Soul from Navarre
The Navarrese man is punished as a barrator in the Fifth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle. He has been referred to by commentators as “Ciampolo,” although Dante never uses this name. He is singled out by the Malebranche but escapes back into the pitch, creating enough of a distraction for Dante and Virgil to escape.
Caiaphas is the high priest who condemned Jesus Christ to crucifixion. In hell, he suffers among the hypocrites in the Sixth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle. He receives the particularly vicious punishment of being crucified on the ground by three stakes, to be trampled on by passersby.
Catalano and Loderingo
Catalano and Loderingo are two Bolognese men from the corrupt order of the Jovial Friars. As hypocrites, they languish, weighted down by leaden robes, in the the Sixth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
Hypocrites, those who commit false actions, wear cloaks with golden exteriors and lead linings. These cloaks imitate the hypocrites’ two-facedness. Hypocrites trudge for eternity in the Sixth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
Vanni Fucci is a thief from Pistoia. Like the thieves in the Seventh Bolgia of the Eighth Circle, he runs from reptiles in the trenches. He predicts that Dante’s White Guelphs will be overthrown in Florence. He then curses God, receives a bite from a reptile, bursts into ashes, and returns to his original form to be punished anew.
Cacus is a centaur who patrols the thieves in the Seventh Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
Diomede is punished as a counsellor of fraud, a sin for which he burns in an eternal flame in the Eighth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle. He is locked in the same flame as Ulysses, with whom he devised the Trojan horse.
Ulysses is punished as a counsellor of fraud, a sin for which he burns in an eternal flame in the Eighth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle. He is locked in the same flame as Diomede, with whom he devised the Trojan horse.
Guido da Montefeltro
Guido da Montefeltro is a Ghibelline leader who persuaded Pope Boniface VIII to use treachery to gain the fortress of Palestrina. For this false counsel, Guido is condemned to the Eighth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
Bertrand de Born
Bertrand de Born is a shade guilty of sowing discord. He helped increase the feud between Henry II of England and his young son Prince Henry. He is now punished in the Ninth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle; he carries his own severed head by the hair.
Gaius Scribonius Curio brought about civil strife by advising Julius Caesar to cross the Rubicon River and launch a civil war. His tongue was removed as punishment. He suffers in the Ninth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
Dante and Virgil encounter Muhammad in the Ninth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle. As the founder of Islam, he is considered guilty of causing a schism in Christianity. For causing such a split, Muhammad himself is split open from his chin down to his pelvis.
Mosca dei Lamberti
Mosca brought political division to Florence by triggering conflict between Guelphs and Ghibellines. He wanders the Ninth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle, his arms amputated.
Pier da Medicina
Pier da Medicina incited civil strife. He disseminated scandal and misrepresentation, sparking feuds between two Romagnese families. As punishment, he languishes in the Ninth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle, his throat and nose slashed open.
Griffolino d’Arezzo is a fraudulent alchemist who now suffers as a leper among the falsifiers in the Tenth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
Capocchio is an alchemist who “aped nature” through alchemy. He suffers disease in the Tenth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
Gianni Schicchi is guilty of impersonation. He runs around the the Tenth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle as a rabid, tusked beast.
Master Adam of Brescia
Master Adam is guilty of counterfeiting Romena coins bearing John the Baptist. He now suffers from dropsy in the Tenth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
According to Ovid, Myrrha disguised herself in order to be impregnated by her own father, the King of Cyprus. Upon finding out, the King tried to kill her. The gods, taking pity, turned her into a myrtle tree, and she bore her son, Adonis, through the bark. For this impersonation, she now runs, rabies-ridden, through the Tenth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
Sinon of Troy
Sinon of Troy is a Greek spy who persuaded the Trojans to bring the wooden horse inside the gates of Troy. For his perjury, he suffers from a burning fever in the Tenth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle.
Antaeus is one of the giants visible from the waist up above the rim of the well at the bottom of the Eighth Circle. He is invincible on earth but not in the air or sky. He carries Virgil and Dante to the pit bottom, where the Ninth Circle begins.
Ephialtes is one of the giants visible from the waist up above the rim of the well at the bottom of the Eighth Circle. Ephialtes is known for attacking Jove during the mythical battle between giants and gods.
Nimrod is one of the giants visible from the waist up above the rim of the well at the bottom of the Eighth Circle. He is from biblical lore. He is known for his involvement in the Tower of Babel and his responsibility for the numerous clashing human languages.
Alessandro and Napoleone degli Alberti
Alessandro and Napoleone degli Alberti are a pair of brothers who slew each other in a fight over family land. As traitors to their family, they are punished in the First Round of the Ninth Circle by being frozen up to their chests in the frozen lake Cocytus.
Bocca degli Abati
Bocca degli Abati is a Guelph who betrayed his faction and fought on the Ghibelline side in the Battle of Montaperti. Dante kicks him in the head and treats him with rage. A traitor to his country, Bocca is frozen up to his neck in the Second Round of the Ninth Circle.
Buoso da Duera
Buoso da Duera is a commander of the Ghibellines. He sold passage to the opposing French army and was therefore a traitor to his country. He is frozen up to his neck in the Second Round of the Ninth Circle.
Camiscion de’ Pazzi
Camiscion de’ Pazzi is a Ghibelline man who committed treachery against his family by murdering his kinsman Ubertino. He is frozen up to his chest, along with the other souls in the First Round of the Ninth Circle. He identifies other wrongdoers to Dante.
Carlino de’ Pazzi
Carlino is the kinsman of Camiscion. He was bribed by Black Guelphs to surrender the Castle of Piantravigne, which had been a White Guelph stronghold. He later sold the castle back to the Whites. He is frozen up to his neck in the Second Round of the Ninth Circle.
Ruggieri degli Ubaldini
Ruggieri is an archbishop who imprisoned Count Ugolino. Ugolino gnaws on the skull of Ruggieri in the Second Round of the Ninth Circle.
Ugolino della Gherardesca
Ugolino is a Guelph leader who was imprisoned in a tower by Archbishop Ruggieri. He was locked in the tower with his sons and grandsons. He ate of their flesh before starving to death himself. He is frozen up to his neck in the Second Round of the Ninth Circle.
Fra Alberigo is punished in Ptolomea, the Third Round of the Ninth Circle, where traitors to their guests reside. He invited a group of political rivals to a banquet, where he ordered them to be executed. He is now frozen up to his eyes.
Ser Branca d’Oria
Branca d’Oria is a Ghibelline who ordered his brother-in-law to be cut to shreds. He is an exceptional case, because his soul has fallen to Ptolomea, the Third Round of the Ninth Circle, even though he has not yet died on earth. His fate is sealed.
Dis is another name for Satan, or the devil. He is the former Lucifer, the fallen angel who now lurks at the center of hell, its deepest reaches. His sin was treachery against God. For that, he is frozen in Judecca, the Fourth Round of the Ninth Circle, where traitors to their lords are punished.
Brutus is punished in Judecca for having betrayed his lord, Julius Caesar. Brutus led the band of assassins who murdered Caesar. Now he is clamped in one of the mouths of Dis.
Cassius is punished in Judecca for having betrayed his lord, Julius Caesar. Cassius was involved in the assassination of Caesar. Now he is clamped in one of the mouths of Dis.
Judas Iscariot is, along with Dis, the greatest traitor of all, for having betrayed Jesus Christ. Judas, once a follower of Christ, gave his master over to the Romans so they could crucify him. Judas is locked in the central mouth of Dis, who flays Judas’s back while gnawing on his head.