Introductory Lecture and Objectives

Dante's Inferno eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

The Inferno is one-third of the Divine Comedy, the masterpiece epic poem by Dante Alighieri. The Inferno is a vivid series of cautionary tales drawn from Biblical and classical figures and from Dante’s Italian contemporaries. Dante’s title for his work was Commedia or “Comedy”; the word “Divine” was added after Dante’s death. In medieval literature, the term “comedy” refers not to humor but simply to a tale with a happy ending. The three parts, or canticles, of the Divine Comedy—Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso—describe Dante’s fictional journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, the three realms of the Catholic afterlife. The Inferno is the most widely read of the three canticles; it is as expansive in its verse as it is fascinating in its orderly ranking of sins and horrific images of Hell. 

Dante wrote the Divine Comedy in his Tuscan dialect of vernacular Italian instead of in Latin, which was the accepted literary language of his time. For his verse he chose terza rima or “third rhyme,” with three-line stanzas in which the rhymes extend into the next stanza. The rhyme scheme has the pattern a-b-a, b-c-b, c-d-c, and so on. The Divine Comedy represents the first known use of terza rima. Dante’s choice of the three-line stanza is thought to pay homage to the Christian Holy Trinity. He made use of the holy number three in other ways, too. The Divine Comedy has three canticles composed of thirty-three cantos each, with one extra introductory canto at the beginning of the Inferno, bringing the total cantos to an even one hundred. There are three beasts of sin in the first canto and three heavenly angels concerned with Dante’s fate in the second. Thirty-three is also the age at which Jesus is thought to have died. Dante’s journey in the Inferno takes place from Good Friday to Easter morning in the year 1300. We know the precise year he intended because he alludes in the first canto to being halfway through his life. According to the Bible, a human’s life expectancy was seventy years. 

The journey in the Inferno is allegorical. Dante’s main character in the story can be seen as any man trying to find a virtuous path in life. Through the voices of sinners consigned to Hell, Dante comments on morality and the degradation of Italian society by greed, violence, and corruption. The sinners in his Hell are also an embodiment of sin itself, and many of them are very compelling. Dante’s Hell has nine circles, each punishing a particular kind of sin. The Eighth Circle for the fraudulent is further divided into ten “bolgias,” or pouches, each pouch punishing a specific type of fraud. The Ninth Circle, for traitors, is subdivided into three rings. Dante’s ranking of the sins is thought to be based more on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics than on the traditional concept of seven deadly sins accepted among medieval Christians. 

Born in Florence in 1265 to an aristocratic family, Dante experienced tragedy very early in his life. His mother died when he was seven, and his father died when he was a teenager. After their deaths, he became responsible for his younger siblings and half-siblings. In his youth, he relied on several mentors, including the scholar Brunetto Latini, whose condemned soul Dante greets warmly in Hell. The poet Guido Cavalcanti was another of Dante’s mentors; his father appears in the Inferno. Dante and Cavalcanti founded a poetry movement called the dolce stil nuovo, the “sweet new style.” The new style was less flowery and more straightforward than that of poetry popular at the time.

A central figure in Dante’s life was Beatrice, a little girl he claimed to have met at a party when he was nine. Though there is no evidence they were close friends, she served as a muse in his early work and as his heavenly guide in the Paradiso. His Beatrice is thought to have been a real-life Florentine girl named Bice. Both Bice and Dante wed others through arranged marriages, but Dante’s Beatrice continued to be prominent in his poetic imagination. When she died at age 24, Dante wrote a series of poems about their relationship titled La Vita Nuova, or New Life

Dante told his friend and patron Can Grande in a letter that his purpose in writing the Divine Comedy was to help people move from a state of misery into a state of happiness. He may have been trying to inspire himself, as well. Dante wrote the Divine Comedy during his permanent exile from Florence, a city divided at the time by political strife as opposing factions, the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs, struggled for power. The Whites were mostly merchants; the Blacks were aligned with banking and imperial interests and had the support of Pope Boniface VIII. Entering politics in Florence in 1295, Dante was a member of the Whites. In 1301 while Dante was in Rome on a political visit, the White Guelphs lost control of the city to the Black Guelphs, and fearing for his safety, Dante did not return to Florence. By 1302 he had been formally exiled; he would never return home again. Dante lived his remaining years in various Italian towns, writing and being supported financially by the generosity of friends. 

The Inferno was finished and in circulation by 1314. Dante completed the final canticle of his Comedy, the Paradiso, in 1320, a year before his death from malaria in Ravenna. Dante’s poetry was well known in Italy at the time of his death, and later in the century, Florentine poet Giovanni Boccaccio worked to repair Dante’s reputation in Florence. Dante’s personal life and reputation suffered as a result of the political climate of his times, but his work prevailed, transcending his life and times. In its artistry and complex vision, the Divine Comedy is considered one of the greatest works of Western literature. Dante’s given name comes from the name “Durante,” which means “enduring.” It is perhaps a perfect name for the poet, as his literary legacy continues to span the centuries. 

Finally, it should be noted that the Inferno reflects the religious precepts—and the cultural biases—of Dante’s fourteenth century. For a student audience, some elements in the poem may be genuinely disconcerting, especially those in regard to homosexuality, women as symbols of promiscuity, and condemnation of Jews and Muslims. In presenting the Inferno, it is important to establish that the content of the poem does reflect fourteenth-century thinking and to confront and discredit the cultural biases in the work that are demeaning.

By the end of the unit the student will be able to: 

1. Identify the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso as the three parts of the Divine Comedy

2. Identify and discuss the Inferno as allegory. 

3. Describe the structure of Dante’s Hell. 

4. Discuss Dante’s conception of Divine Justice. 

5. Define contrapasso, the rule of retribution. 

6. Discuss how man’s use of language is depicted in the poem. 

7. Recognize the poem’s satire of Dante’s contemporaries in politics, Church leadership, and poetry. 

8. Discern the allusions to famous figures from the Greek and Roman classical tradition and discuss the poem as an extension of Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.

Student Lesson Guide

  • The Lesson Guide is organized for a canto-by-canto study of the poem. Lesson Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
  • Lesson Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each canto and to acquaint them generally with its content.
  • Before Lesson Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
  • Lesson Guide vocabulary...

(The entire section is 585 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. Do you agree with Dante’s ordering of sins? If not, how should they be reordered? Is fraud worse than violence? Should any sins be added or omitted?

2. Should a person be defined for eternity by his or her worst deed? How are justice and mercy balanced in the modern criminal justice system?

3. Is the God of the Inferno a loving God, as Dante claims? Why or why not?

4. Empathy is often considered a natural and a desirable human trait, but Virgil discourages Dante’s compassion for sinners. In the modern world, can a lack of empathy be a path to spiritual growth? If so, in what circumstances?

5. Which sins punished in Dante’s Hell are the most tempting to...

(The entire section is 500 words.)

Canto One


lucre: money; profit

pelt: the hair and skin of an animal

ravenous: extremely hungry

relentless: oppressively constant; unending

renowned: celebrated, famous

shade: a ghost, a visible form of a dead person

tremors: vibrations, shaking movements

trod: (past tense of tread) walked

Troy: an ancient city in what is now Turkey, site of the Trojan War described in Homer’s epic poem The Iliad

wrath: violent anger

wretchedness: a condition of great misery caused by misfortune, poverty, or other adversity

Study Questions

1. Inferno is an example of allegory, the extension of a metaphor...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

Canto Two


compassion: the feeling of being moved by and wanting to relieve another’s suffering

dwell: to reside, to inhabit

girding: preparing (oneself) for action

harrow: to wound

manifest: clearly revealed, open to view

piteously: in a manner evoking pity or sympathy for one’s suffering

recount: to narrate, to relate (a story)

suffice: to be enough, to be adequate

vast: very large or great

verge: an edge, a border

Study Questions

1. Why does Dante call on the Muses to help him?

He asks for the help of their “high genius” in telling the story of his journey from his memory.


(The entire section is 455 words.)

Canto Three


abyss: a bottomless pit

Acheron: one of the five rivers of the classical underworld

Charon: Greek mythology the ferryman to Hades

countenance: facial expression

din: a loud, unpleasant, and prolonged noise

goads: urges or provokes by irritation or insult

groveling: moving while lying facedown; (figuratively) performing an act of humility or humiliation

infamy: evil fame or reputation

livid: of a bluish or bruised color

omnipotence: the state of having unlimited power

paltry: base, weak, unimportant

tumult: commotion; unruly or turbulent disturbance

woe: misery, sorrow


(The entire section is 407 words.)

Canto Four


anguish: extreme suffering

baptism: a Christian sacrament marked by ritual use of water admitting the recipient to the Christian community

bleared: clouded, dimmed

brink: the edge at the top of a steep place

homage: an expression of reverence, respect, or honor for someone or something

lofty: high, towering

mantled: covered, clothed, concealed

quelling: putting an end to

throngs: crowds of assembled persons

Study Questions

1. Limbo, “the edge” of Hell, is the least punishing realm in the Inferno. Who inhabits Limbo? What do Dante’s encounters in this least punishing circle of Hell suggest about his...

(The entire section is 350 words.)

Canto Five


buffets: strikes or knocks about

decree: an official command or decision

entreat: to beg, to plead

founder: to stumble, to sink

Francesca (da Rimini): a contemporary of Dante who betrayed her husband with his brother Paolo

innumerable: countless

lecher: a person excessively given to sexual indulgence

malignant: harmful, evil in nature

Minos: Greek mythology the king of Crete, son of Zeus

pander: a person who arranges illicit love affairs

sanctuary: a holy place

scourged: whipped

tributaries: streams or rivers that flow into larger bodies of water

whelm: a surge


(The entire section is 459 words.)

Canto Six


assailed: assaulted

Cerberus: Greek and Roman mythology three-headed dog that guards the underworld

confounding: confusing or bewildering

desecrating: degrading, profaning

discord: strife; disagreement

gullets: passages between mouth and stomach

mugs: faces

riven: torn; split

scruff: the nape of the neck

taut: tense; having no give or slack; tightly drawn

trump: poetic a trumpet

Study Questions

1. Explain why Cerberus, the doglike beast, is a fitting mascot for the sinners in Hell’s Third Circle. Cite at least two details from Dante’s description of him.


(The entire section is 457 words.)

Canto Seven


avarice: greed

browbeats: intimidates or disconcerts by stern manner or arrogant speech

fritter: to waste bit by bit

gnaw: to bite or chew on with the teeth (especially to wear away by persistent biting)

jest: a joke

joust: (in context) a battle

mire: a swamp

Plutus: Greek and Roman mythology god of wealth (Note: It is believed that Dante may have confused Plutus with Pluto, the classical ruler of the underworld.)

slough: a muddy or swampy area

squall: to scream loudly or discordantly

squelch: the sound made by liquid when subjected to sudden or intermittent pressure

sullen: gloomily or resentfully silent or...

(The entire section is 560 words.)

Canto Eight


adversaries: opponents

chafed: fumed, was angry

forge: a furnace used by blacksmiths to heat iron

garrison: a fortress

indignant: provoked to anger and scorn by something unjust or unworthy

melee: a confused struggle (especially a hand-to-hand fight among several people)

prow: the pointed front of a boat

shorn: shaved

skiff: a small boat

solaced: comforted

Study Questions

1. As they cross the Styx, why does Virgil suddenly hug and kiss Dante? Why is this an important moment in Dante’s spiritual journey?

Instead of sympathizing with a sinner as he has previously done, Dante curses the...

(The entire section is 386 words.)

Canto Nine


blanched: whitened

briars: thorny tangled bushes

cleave: to split

conjured: invoked by supernatural power

Furies: Roman mythology female goddesses of the underworld, usually adorned with snakes and dripping blood from the eyes

gale: a strong wind

Gorgon: Greek mythology a female creature with snakes for hair whose gaze turns humans to stone

herald: a messenger

heresy: the holding of an opinion that is counter to church doctrine

heretics: those who hold or express opinions counter to church doctrine

hydras: Greek mythology marsh snakes with many heads

patriarch: a male leader of a...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

Canto Ten


besought: begged

Epicurus: ancient Greek philosopher who believed the death of the body was the death of the soul

loathsome: repulsive, offensive

sepulchers: tombs

sovereign: supreme in rank or power

Valley of Jehosophat: Biblical the location where the last judgment will take place, according to the Book of Joel

Study Questions

1. The second entombed soul that Dante meets in Canto Ten is Cavalcante, the father of Dante’s friend Guido, who was his first mentor in poetry. Cavalcante speculates that Dante’s poetic genius is the reason for his distinction as a traveler in Hell. How is his emphasis on Dante’s worldly...

(The entire section is 388 words.)

Canto Eleven


afflict: to trouble, to harm

bestiality: the nature of qualities of a beast (stupidity, irrationality, brutality)

the Deity: God

derive: to take its origin from

fraud: criminal deception with the intent to gain an unfair advantage over or injure the rights of another

hypocrites: persons who put on a false appearance of virtue or religion

incontinence: lack of self-restraint, usually with bodily appetites

malice: the intention to cause harm to another person

peculiar: (in context) unique

recompense: compensation

repent: to review and feel regret for wrong actions, especially in a religious context

simonists: persons who use...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Canto Twelve


alleluia: Christian word used in prayer or hymn, meaning “praise the Lord”

centaurs: Greek mythology creatures with human heads and torsos and bodies and legs of a horse

champed: munched

Chiron: Greek mythology a particular centaur who is not traditionally given to violence

croup: the rump of any four-legged creature, especially a horse

cupidity: extreme desire

fledge: the feahers on an arrow or dart

Lucifer: Biblical Satan, a fallen angel cast out of Heaven

Minotaur: Greek mythology a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man, conceived by Minos’s wife when she was inside a...

(The entire section is 617 words.)

Canto Thirteen


boles: stems or tree trunks

deft: skillful in action

gallows: a structure used for inflicting the punishment of death by hanging

gingerly: cautiously; delicately

gnarls: contorted knotty bumps, especially on a tree

Harpies: Greek mythology winged female birdlike creatures with human faces, known for stealing food

rankest: (regarding vegetation) thickest or most overgrown

shuck: to strip off; to remove

thickets: dense growths of shrubs or small trees

Study Questions

1. What is the punishment for the sin of suicide? How is it appropriate? What will happen to the souls of the suicides at the final...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Canto Fourteen


Capaneus: Greek mythology a warrior who cursed Zeus before the siege of Thebes; Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt

fissure: a narrow opening or crack of considerable length and depth, usually occurring from some breaking or parting

gulch: a narrow canyon

moor: uncultivated flat land, usually marshlike

surmised: supposed

torrid: intensely hot

unalloyed: (regarding metal) pure; not mixed with other metals

Study Questions

1. In life, sinners against God deny or defy the natural order created by God on Earth. Explain how the landscape of their punishment both denies and perverts nature.

The landscape...

(The entire section is 389 words.)

Canto Fifteen


banished: required by authority to leave a country; driven out or removed from a home or place of usual resort or continuance

bulwarks: large defensive walls or dikes

glossed: explained; interpreted

pedagogue: a teacher; a schoolmaster, especially a dull, formal, or pedantic one

prophecies: predictions of the future

provender: to feed on

scab: a rascal

sinews: connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments

sorbs: fruits of the service tree

wont: to be in the habit of

Study Questions

1. Dante’s former mentor Brunetto wants to be remembered for his worldly achievement, his book Treasure. What is...

(The entire section is 275 words.)

Canto Sixteen


chasm: a crack or gap in the Earth’s surface

hastening: accelerating; hurrying

litany: a long, continuous repetition

plummets: drops or falls rapidly

shrewish: (in regard to a woman) given to scolding

thresh: to thrash; to beat as if to separate

valor: personal bravery

ventured: exposed to hazard; undertook the risks and dangers of (such as a journey)

Study Questions

1. Dante feels sympathy for sinners whom he respected on Earth as members of his political faction. He stresses their good deeds, not dwelling on their sins. How does his attitude convey the Inferno’s ongoing tension between the value of worldly...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Canto Seventeen


azure: blue

cape: a piece of land jutting into the sea

dolorous: causing, marked by, or expressing misery or grief

farrowing: (relating to a pig) giving birth

Geryon: Greek mythology a monster, usually with a human face or faces and sometimes possessing wings

haggle: to dispute or bargain persistently

insignia: an emblem of a nation, person, or family

languid: slow-moving, unhurried

mooring: securing a ship or boat to the shore or by an anchor

particolored: partly of one color and partly of another

quartan: archaic a fever that recurs every four days

quay: a structure built parallel to the bank of a...

(The entire section is 337 words.)

Canto Eighteen


buttress: a prop or support, usually used to strengthen the wall of a building

haunch: the part of the body comprising the hip, buttocks, and upper thigh

Jason: Greek mythology hero, leader of the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece

pate: the head; the skull

precipice: a high, steep cliff

sniveling: running at the nose; making a sniffling sound

Study Questions

1. Virgil and Jason are both gifted speakers. Explain how Jason’s use of language differs from Virgil’s. How does Jason’s use of language relate to the sin of fraud?

Virgil has used his talent with words to win Dante’s safe passage...

(The entire section is 414 words.)

Canto Nineteen


apportion: to divide and share according to a plan; to make a proportionate division or distribution of

baptistery: the part of a church where the rite of baptism is performed

espoused: married

guile: deceit

idolater: a worshipper of a false God or something other than God

plumb: exactly in alignment

rapacious: aggressively greedy

shanks: the parts of the legs extending from knee to ankle

Study Questions

1. On arriving at the pocket of the simonists, those who have profited from Church office, Dante praises God: “O highest Wisdom, how much art you show / in Heaven, on earth, and in the evil world! / How justly does...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

Canto Twenty


awry: crooked; out of course or place

brutish: resembling an animal in character; unintelligent, uncultured

disposed: inclined; in the mood to

diviner: a magician or fortune-teller

laments: passionate expressions of grief

untilled: (in regard to land) unplowed

vale: a valley, especially a wide one

Study Questions

1. What is the eternal fate of the diviners, or fortune-tellers, that is so grotesque it makes Dante weep? How is their punishment fitting?

In life, the diviners tried to see and influence the future, or at least to convince people they could do so. In Hell, their heads are turned backward so that they...

(The entire section is 407 words.)

Canto Twenty-One


aldermen: civil officers

caulk: to seal a seam or a gap with a waterproof filler

grappling hooks: devices with iron claws, usually attached to ropes and used for gripping

lunge: to make a sudden forward movement

mastiff: a breed of large, powerful dog

platoon: a small body of soldiers

prongs: forked instruments; pitchforks

scullery: the department of a large household concerned with the care of the plates, dishes, and kitchen utensils

Study Questions

1. What simile does Dante use to introduce the landscape of the fifth pocket at the beginning of Canto Twenty-One?

Dante compares the boiling pits of tar in...

(The entire section is 223 words.)

Canto Twenty-Two


alleviate: to relieve

cavalry: the collective term for soldiers on horseback

conniving: secretly allowing or aiding something considered immoral, illegal, or harmful to occur

grafters: persons who make money dishonestly; thieves

limed: smeared with a sticky substance

mange: skin disease caused by mites

muster: (in regard to an army) to come together

rogue: a dishonest, unprincipled person

scot-free: without being punished

swine: a pig or pigs

Study Questions

1. What imagery does Dante use in the similes of the first twelve lines of Canto Twenty-Two, and what is his ultimate point? (It may help to reread...

(The entire section is 249 words.)

Canto Twenty-Three


distilled: (in context) to be wet with

grindstone: a disc of stone turned on an axle and used for grinding or milling

heavy-laden: bearing a heavy burden

mill: an apparatus for grinding corn or the building that holds such an apparatus

paddles: spoked wheels on which water falls to turn the grindstone of a mill

populace: people

rankles: annoys or irritates

sidelong: sideways

sluice: a structure for controlling the flow of water

smock: a woman’s undergarment

transfixed: rendered motionless

Tuscan: a person from the Italian region of Tuscany; the dialect spoken in that region

Study Questions


(The entire section is 438 words.)

Canto Twenty-Four


antidote: a medicine given to counteract the effect of poison or venom

filched: stole

fodder: food, especially dried hay or feed for livestock

forage: to rove in search of food

headlong: with unrestrained course

Phoenix: mythology a sacred bird whose body and nest burn to ash from which a new Phoenix is then born

plaster: medicine or bandaging material applied to a wound

sacristy: a room in a church where sacred vessels and vestments are kept and where the clergy vests in preparation for a service

suffice: to be enough

tempestuous: stormy; rough and violent

vestments: garments worn by Christian clergy on special...

(The entire section is 350 words.)

Canto Twenty-Five


anterior: to the front; toward the head

haughty: high in one’s own estimation; proud

juncture: the place at which two things are joined

Lucan: an ancient Roman poet

Ovid: an ancient Roman poet; author of Metamorphoses

shifty: dishonest, untrustworthy

transmute: to alter or change in appearance or form

Study Questions

1. How does Dante silence three of his poet predecessors in Canto Twenty-Five? How might his silencing them be interpreted?

First he puts his finger to his lips to signal Virgil, and then he directly instructs Lucan and Ovid to be silent. In silencing them, he seems to assert his own...

(The entire section is 307 words.)

Canto Twenty-Six


ascending: rising

Diomedes: Greek mythology hero of the Trojan War who appears in Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid

kindled: lit up, as if on fire

Penelope: Greek mythology wife of Odysseus

Ulysses: Greek mythology Roman name for Odysseus, king of Ithaca and hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey

Study Questions

1. Dante describes the tip of the flame that traps the soul of Ulysses by comparing it to a tongue. How does this image suggest the sin Ulysses is guilty of?

The tongue is a tool of speech, and Ulysses used his speech to commit his sin of false counsel....

(The entire section is 256 words.)

Canto Twenty-Seven


absolve: to grant forgiveness of sin

amends: compensation

brazen: (in context) brass

expedients: means to an end

hawsers: large ropes used in sailing

imparted: gave, shared

logician: a student of logic; one skilled in reasoning

plied: applied oneself, worked at

vex: annoy, bother

Study Questions

1. What does Montefeltro admit to being concerned about before speaking to Dante? Considering his concern, why does he identify himself and tell his story to Dante?

Montefeltro is another of Hell’s citizens concerned with his earthly reputation. Since he appeared to be a virtuous friar when he died, he...

(The entire section is 376 words.)

Canto Twenty-Eight


beset: to surround; to entrap

bored: pierced, made a hole in or through

cloven: split

cowlick: a tuft of hair that will not lie smoothly

gored: pierced or stabbed deeply with a sharp weapon

helm: the wheel that controls the rudder and steering of a ship

lopped: cut off, truncated

midstave: the middle piece of thin, shaped wood that, when joined with others, forms a barrel

repugnant: disgusting

retribution: the dispensing or receiving of reward or punishment, especially in the afterlife

treachery: betrayal of trust

Study Questions

1. At the beginning of Canto Twenty-Eight, Dante claims to have no...

(The entire section is 399 words.)

Canto Twenty-Nine


alchemy: a medieval study concerned with turning base metals into precious metals

cloister: an enclosed space

currycomb: a metal comb used to groom horses

infallible: incapable of mistakes or failure

pestilence: disease

Study Questions

1. Whose soul does Dante see among the damned as he and Virgil leave the ninth pocket? How does Dante respond to him? How does the soul respond to Dante? Why?

Dante sees the soul of his relative, Geri del Bello, and lingers to watch him among the other sinners; he feels great pity for him. Virgil tells Dante, whose attention had been elsewhere momentarily, that Bello pointed at Dante in a...

(The entire section is 248 words.)

Canto Thirty


consumptive: affected or weakened by disease, especially tuberculosis

culling: selecting a few from a great number

dropsy: an accumulation of fluid in the body

dross: waste, refuse

lute: a stringed musical instrument

mangles: hacks, cuts, or mutilates by violence

Study Questions

1. To begin Canto Thirty, Dante uses two epic similes about classical figures, the first about King Athamas of Thebes and the second about Queen Hecuba of Troy. How does he compare their stories to the events he sees in the tenth pocket of the eighth circle?

Dante uses the classical references to emphasize the savagery of the souls in the tenth...

(The entire section is 272 words.)

Canto Thirty-One


askew: to one side; not straight

impending: (in context) overhanging

incriminates: charges with or shows evidence or proof of involvement in a crime or fault

loincloth: a simple garment worn around the hips

rebuke: criticism

Study Questions

1. Dante expresses relief that giants no longer inhabit the earth, even though elephants and whales do. He says, “For where you join to evil will and might / the instrument of reason in the mind, / no shelter for mankind can ever stand.” What is Dante’s meaning here? How do evil will and reason relate to fraud?

A creature possessing evil will, great strength, and human intellect...

(The entire section is 318 words.)

Canto Thirty-Two


abhors: hates, loathes

adjoins: is attached to

argent: French money

aspic: a savory meat jelly

beetling: (in context) hanging threateningly

blasphemies: acts of insult, contempt, or lack of reverence for God

hanks: skeins or coils of thread, yarn, or hair

vile: morally low, despicable

Study Questions

1. Why does Dante invoke the Muses for a second time? Why is it difficult for him to describe the Ninth Circle of Hell?

Dante claims he does not have the proper poetic sensibility to describe this deep circle of Hell upon which rest all the others he has seen; he can’t form the “bitter and...

(The entire section is 320 words.)

Canto Thirty-Three


askance: sideways

famished: starving

lest: for fear that

obstructing: blocking

Study Questions

1. What evidence in the text supports the conclusion that Ugolino ate the bodies of his dead sons?

Prior to his death, one of the sons suggests that he be eaten. Later, Dante witnesses Ugolino gnawing the head of Archbishop Ruggieri; by the law of contrapasso, Ugolino’s punishment suggests he may have performed a similar act in his life.

2. To the sinner Alberigo, whose eyes are filled with ice, Dante says, “If I don’t clear your eyes, may I / go to the bottom of this icy Hell!” In what way is Dante’s...

(The entire section is 234 words.)

Canto Thirty-Four


Brutus: ancient Roman senator and assassin of Julius Caesar

Cassius: ancient Roman senator and assassin of Caesar; brother-in-law of Brutus

cavern: a cave

descried: perceived from a distance

edifice: a large structure, usually a building

grapple: to grip firmly

Judas Iscariot: Biblical apostle who betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin priests in return for thirty pieces of silver

matted: tangled or densely interwoven

slaver: to drool

standards: flags or banners indicating the rallying point of an army

thresher: a person or machine that separates grain from straw

zenith: the highest point


(The entire section is 378 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. Where does Dante find himself at the opening of the Inferno?

A. at home

B. in a dark wilderness

C. on an Italian beach

D. in the company of poets

E. at the walls of Dis

2. Which answer best describes the symbolic meaning for the “straight and true” path that Dante says he has wandered from in Canto One?

A. the road home

B. a virtuous life

C. the First Circle of Hell

D. the perfect poetry

E. a prosperous business

3. Which of the following is NOT true? An allegory


(The entire section is 989 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. Describe the important differences between Dante the pilgrim and the damned souls he sees in Hell. Discuss both literal and allegorical aspects of their differences. Include specific evidence from the text to support your discussion.

Dante the pilgrim differs from the damned souls he meets in several aspects: physical presence; hope for salvation; knowledge of the present and the future and their responses to it; and freedom of movement. These contrasts serve the author Dante’s idea of the importance of choosing the “straight and true” moral path in earthly life.

The Inferno’s text provides hints that Dante the pilgrim differs physically from the shades he meets in Hell. His soul is still...

(The entire section is 3626 words.)