Student Question

Is Dante dead in Dante's Inferno?

Quick answer:

The historic Dante died in 1321, but the character called Dante in the Divine Comedy is alive. This can lead to some confusion, as the character Dante tours the afterlife. However, he does so as a living person.

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The historic Dante is dead. He died in 1321. However, the character Dante in the Divine Comedy is not dead. This can be confusing because he travels to places we associate with the afterlife: hell, purgatory, and heaven. He does so because he is able to get special intercession to be one of the few living humans ever to tour the universe of life after death.

Beatrice, St. Lucia, and the Virgin Mary intercede so that Dante can have this very rare opportunity to get a glimpse of what is in store for humans after death. The women do this because, at the age of thirty-five, Dante has wandered away from his faith and feels as if he is spiritually lost in a dark forest. He wishes fervently to get back on the narrow path to holiness and closeness to God. St. Lucia and the Virgin Mary feel mercy and compassion toward Dante, so they urge Beatrice to help him.

Dante's privilege is so unusual that the ferry driver at first balks at taking him, a living creature, across the river to hell. Nevertheless, Dante, as he promises, writes a detailed and faithful account of the afterlife to help other humans stay on the right path to God and salvation.

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