Overview

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.

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List of Characters

The following list of 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.

Dante

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 questions 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 IV, Dante is consumed by pride when he counts himself among the retinue of six canonical poets. In Canto VIII, 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

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...

(The entire section is 3,676 words.)