What is the message of Dante's Inferno?

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The message of Dante's Inferno is that human beings are subject to temptation and commit sins, leaving no escape from the eternal punishments of hell. However, human beings have free will, and they can make choices to avoid temptation and sin, ultimately earning the eternal rewards of heaven.

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Dante Alighieri's three-part epic poem, the Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia)—composed of Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise or Heaven)—is intended to convey the message, and teach the lesson, that every human being is subject to temptation and commits sins. It likewise conveys that idea that every sin committed will be purged (in purgatory) or eternally punished (in hell) and that there is no escape from that punishment, as exemplified in Inferno.

In Inferno, Dante presents an imaginative view of the afterlife for those who choose the path of sin. His description of hell was more personal and, in a way, more individualized than the prevailing Christian view of eternal damnation and hellfire. Saint Augustine (354–430 CE) taught, as was believed in early Christianity, that souls damned to hell were consumed by fire (City of God, book 21, chapter 9), but Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) wrote that the damned aren't only consumed by fire but must endure other punishments according to the sins they committed (Summa Theologica, "Treatise on the Last Things," question 97, "Of the Punishment of the Damned").

Dante's nine circles of hell in Inferno are similar to the seven gates of hell mentioned in the Quran, the sacred scripture of Islam.

And verily, Hell is the promised abode for them all [the unbelievers]. It has seven gates: to each of those gates is a specific class of sinners assigned. (Quran 15: 43–44)

The Hadith, a narrative record of the words and actions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, refers to a place of extreme, unbearable cold at the bottom of hell called "Zamhareer," which is analogous to Dante's ninth circle of hell, where the damned are encased in ice to varying degrees and where Satan appears at the lowest point of hell, enclosed in ice to his chest.

The emperor of the despondent kingdom
so towered from the ice, up from midchest.
(Inferno, canto 34, lines 28–29)

Dante shows throughout the Divine Comedy that temptation, sin, and punishment aren't inevitable—which would simply engender hopelessness and despair throughout humanity—but that there is an opportunity for salvation and a way to avoid the punishments described in Inferno. Every human being has free will and the capacity to change their behavior and make choices that avoid temptation, sin, and punishment and which will lead to the eternal rewards of paradise.

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