illustration of a human covered in a starry sky walking from the sky and plains toward a fiery opening to hell

The Divine Comedy

by Dante Alighieri
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Last Updated on January 14, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1720

Dante

Dante (DAHN-tay) is an exile Florentine poet who is halted in his path of error through the grace of the Virgin, Saint Lucy, and Beatrice, and is redeemed by his journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven. He learns to submerge his instinctive pity for some sinners in his recognition of the justice of God, and he frees himself of the faults of wrath and misdirected love by participating in the penance for these sins in purgatory. He is then ready to grow in understanding and love as he moves with Beatrice nearer to the presence of God.

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Beatrice

Beatrice (beh-ah-TREE-cheh) is Dante’s beloved, who is transformed into an angel, one of Mary’s handmaids. Through her intercession, her compassion, and her teaching, Dante’s passion is transmuted into divine love, which brings him to a state of indescribable blessedness.

Virgil

Virgil is a great Roman poet who guides Dante through hell and purgatory. The most favored of the noble pagans who dwell in limbo without hope of heavenly bliss, he represents the highest achievements of human reason and classical learning.

Saint Lucy

Saint Lucy is Dante’s patron saint. She sends him aid and conveys him through a part of Purgatory.

Charon

Charon (KAY-ron) is traditionally the ferryman of damned souls.

Minos

Minos (mee-nohs) is the monstrous judge who dooms sinners to their allotted torments.

Paolo and Francesca

Paolo (pah-OH-loh) and Francesca (frahn-CHEH-skah) are devoted lovers who were murdered by Paolo’s brother, who was Francesca’s husband. Together even in hell, they arouse Dante’s pity with their tale of growing affection.

Ciacco

Ciacco (CHEE-ahk-koh) is a Florentine damned for gluttony, who prophesies the civil disputes that engulfed his native city after his death.

Plutus

Plutus is the bloated, clucking creature who guards the entrance of the fourth circle of Hell.

Phlegyas

Phlegyas (FLEHJ-ee-as) is the boatman of the wrathful.

Filippo Argenti

Filippo Argenti (fee-LEEP-poh ahr-JEHN-tee) is a Florentine noble, damned to welter in mud for his uncontrollable temper.

Megaera, Alecto, and Tisiphone

Megaera (MEHG-ah-rah), Alecto (ah-LEHK-toh), and Tisiphone (tih-SIF-oh-nee), the Furies, are tower warders of the City of Dis.

Farinata Degli Uberti

Farinata Degli Uberti (fah-ree-NAH-tah deh-ylee ew-BEHR-tee), the leader of the Ghibelline party of Florence, is condemned to rest in an indestructible sepulcher for his heresy. He remains concerned primarily for the fate of his city.

Cavalcante

Cavalcante (kah-vahl-KAHN-tay) is a Guelph leader and the father of Dante’s friend Guido. He rises from his tomb to ask about his son.

Nessus, Chiron, and Pholus

Nessus (NEHS-uhs), Chiron (KI-ron), and Pholus (FOH-luhs) are the courteous archer centaurs who guard the river of boiling blood that holds the violent against men.

Piero Delle Vigne

Piero Delle Vigne (pee-EH-roh dehl-leh VEEN-nay) is the loyal adviser to Emperor Frederick, who is imprisoned, with others who committed suicide, in a thornbush.

Capaneus

Capaneus (kah-PAH-neh-ews) is a proud, blasphemous tyrant, one of the Seven against Thebes.

Brunetto Latini

Brunetto Latini (brew-NEHT-toh lah-TEE-nee) is Dante’s old teacher, whom the poet treats with great respect; he laments the sin of sodomy that placed him deep in hell.

Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, Jacopo Rusticucci, and Guglielmo Borsiere

Guido Guerra (GWEE-doh gew-EHR-rah), Tegghiaio Aldobrandi (teeg-GEE-ah-ee-oh ahl-doh-BRAHN-dee), Jacopo Rusticucci (YAHK-oh-poh rews-tee-KEW-chee), and Guglielmo Borsiere (gew-glee-EHL-moh bohr-SEE-ehr-ay) are Florentine citizens who gave in to unnatural lust.

Geryon

Geryon (JEE-ree-on) is a beast with a human face and a scorpion’s tail, symbolic of fraud.

Venedico Caccianemico

Venedico Caccianemico (veh-neh-DEE-koh kah-CHEE-ah-neh-MEE-koh) is a Bolognese pander.

Jason

Jason is a classical hero, damned as a seducer.

Alessio Interminei

Alessio Interminei (ah-LEHS-syoh een-tehr-mee-neh-ee) is a flatterer.

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Nicholas III

Nicholas III, one of the popes, is damned to burn in a rocky cave for using the resources of the church for worldly advancement.

Amphiaraus, Tiresias, Aruns, Manto, Eurypylus, Michael Scot, and Guido Bonatti

Amphiaraus (ahm-fee-AHR-ah-ews), Tiresias (tee-reh-SEE-ahs), Aruns (AH-rewnz), Manto, Eurypylus (ew-RIHP-ih-luhs), Michael Scot, and Guido Bonatti (boh-NAHT-tee) are astrologers and diviners whose grotesquely twisted shapes reflect their distortion of divine counsel.

Malacoda

Malacoda (mah-lah-KOH-dah) is the chief of the devils who torment corrupt political officials.

Ciampolo

Ciampolo (chee-ahm-POH-loh) is one of Malacoda’s charges, who converses with Dante and Virgil while he plans to outwit the devils.

Catalano and Loderingo

Catalano (kah-tah-LAH-noh) and Loderingo (loh-deh-REEN-goh) are jovial Bolognese friars who wear the gilded leaden mantles decreed eternally for hypocrites.

Caiphas

Caiphas (KAH-ee-fahs) is the high priest who had Christ condemned. He lies naked in the path of the heavily laden hypocrites.

Vanni Fucci

Vanni Fucci (VAHN-nee FEW-chee) is a bestial, wrathful thief, the damned spirit most arrogant against God.

Agnello, Francisco, Cianfa, Buoso, and Puccio

Agnello, Francisco, Cianfa (CHEE-ahn-fah), Buoso (bew-OH-soh), and Puccio (pew-CHEE-oh) are malicious thieves and oppressors who are metamorphosed from men to serpents, then from serpents to men, before the eyes of the poet.

Ulysses and Diomed

Ulysses (y-lihs-ees) and Diomed (DEE-oh-mehd) are Greek heroes transformed into tongues of flame as types of the evil counselor. Ulysses retains the splendid passion for knowledge that led him beyond the limits set for men.

Guido de Montefeltro

Guido de Montefeltro is an evil counselor who became involved in the fraud and sacrilege of Pope Boniface.

Mahomet, Piero da Medicina, and Bertran de Born

Mahomet, Piero da Medicina (pee-EH-roh dah meh-dee-CHEE-nah), and Bertran de Born are sowers of schism and discord whose bodies are cleft and mutilated.

Capocchio and Griffolino

Capocchio (kah-POH-chee-oh) and Griffolino (gree-foh-LEE-noh) are alchemists afflicted with leprosy.

Gianni Schicchi and Myrrha

Gianni Schicchi (jee-AHN-nee shee-chee) and Myrrha are sinners who disguised themselves because of lust and greed, fittingly transformed into swine.

Master Adam

Master Adam is a counterfeiter.

Sinon and Potiphar’s Wife

Sinon and Potiphar’s wife are damned for malicious lying and treachery.

Nimrod, Antaeus, and Briareus

Nimrod, Antaeus (AN-taeh-ews), and Briareus (BRI-ahr-eh-ews) are giants who rebelled against God.

Camincion de’ Pazzi, Count Ugolino, Fra Alberigo, Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius

Camincion de’ Pazzi (kah-meen-CHEE-ohn deh PAHZ-zee), Count Ugolino (ew-goh-LEE-noh), Fra Alberigo (ahl-behr-EE-goh), Judas Iscariot (JEW-dahs ees-KAH-ree-oht), Brutus, and Cassius (KAHS-see-uhs) are traitors to family, country, and their masters. They dwell forever in ice, hard and cold as their own hearts.

Cato

Cato (KAH-toh) is the aged Roman sage who was, for the Middle Ages, a symbol of pagan virtue. He meets Dante and Virgil at the base of Mount Purgatory and sends them on their way upward.

Casella

Casella (kah-SEHL-lah) is a Florentine composer who charms his hearers with a song as they enter purgatory.

Manfred, Belacqua, La Pia, Cassero, and Buonconte da Montefeltro

Manfred, a Ghibelline leader; Belacqua (beh-LAHK-wah); La Pia (PEE-ah); Cassero (kahs-SEH-roh); and Buonconte da Montefeltro (BWON-kon-teh dah mohn-teh-FELH-troh) are souls who must wait many years at the foot of Mount Purgatory because they delayed their repentance until the time of their death.

Sordello

Sordello is a Mantuan poet who reverently greets Virgil and accompanies him and his companion for part of their journey.

Nino Visconti and Conrad Malaspina

Nino Visconti and Conrad Malaspina (mah-lah-SPEE-nah) are men too preoccupied with their political life to repent early.

Omberto Aldobrandesco, Oderisi, and Provenzan Salvani

Omberto Aldobrandesco (ohm-BEHR-toh ahl-doh-brahn-DEHS-koh), Oderisi (oh-deh-REE-see), and Provenzan Salvani (sahl-VAH-nee) are sinners who walk twisted and bent over in penance for their pride in ancestry, artistry, and power.

Sapia

Sapia (sah-PEE-ah) is one of the envious, a woman who rejoiced at the defeat of her townspeople.

Guido del Duca

Guido del Duca (DEW-kah) is a soul doing penance for envy. He laments the dissensions tearing apart the Italian states.

Marco Lombardo

Marco Lombardo is Dante’s companion through the smoky way trodden by the wrathful.

Pope Adrian

Pope Adrian is one of those being purged of avarice.

Hugh Capet

Hugh Capet (ka-PAY) is the founder of the French ruling dynasty, which he castigates for its crimes and brutality. He atones for his own ambition and greed.

Statius

Statius (STA-tih-uhs) is the author of The Thebaid. One of Virgil’s disciples, he has just completed his penance for prodigality. He tells Dante and Virgil of the liberation of the truly repentant soul.

Forese Donati and Bonagiunta

Forese Donati (foh-RAY-seh doh-NAH-tee), Dante’s friend, and Bonagiunta (boh-nah-gee-EWN-tah) are Florentines guilty of gluttony.

Guido Guinicelli and Arnaut

Guido Guinicelli (gwee-nee-CHEHL-lee) and Arnaut (ahr-NOH) are love poets who submit to the flames that purify them of lust.

Matilda

Matilda is a heavenly lady who meets Dante in the earthly paradise at the top of Mount Purgatory and takes him to Beatrice.

Piccarda

Piccarda (peek-KAHR-dah) is a Florentine nun, a fragile, almost transparent spirit who dwells in the moon’s sphere, the outermost circle of heaven, since her faith wavered, making her incapable of receiving greater bliss than this.

Justinian

Justinian is a great Roman emperor and lawgiver, one of the champions of the Christian faith.

Charles Martel

Charles Martel is the heir to Charles II, king of Naples, whose early death precipitated strife and injustice.

Cunizza

Cunizza (kew-NEEZ-zah) is Sordello’s mistress and the sister of an Italian tyrant.

Falco

Falco is a troubadour who was, after his conversion, made a bishop.

Rahab

Rahab is the harlot who aided Joshua to enter Jerusalem, another of the many whose human passions were transformed into love of God.

Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas (ah-KWI-nahs) is a Scholastic philosopher. He tells Dante of Saint Francis when he comes to the sphere of the sun, the home of those who have reached heaven through their knowledge of God.

Saint Bonaventura

Saint Bonaventura is Thomas Aquinas’s companion, who praises Saint Dominic.

Cacciagiuda

Cacciagiuda (kah-CHEE-ah-jee-EW-dah), Dante’s great-great-grandfather, is placed in the sphere of Mars as a warrior for the church.

Peter Damian

Peter Damian (DAY-mee-ahn), a hermit, is an inhabitant of the sphere of Saturn, the place allotted to spirits blessed for their temperance and contemplative life.

Saint Peter, Saint James, and Saint John

Saint Peter, Saint James, and Saint John are representatives of the virtues of faith, hope, and love. The three great disciples examine the poet to ensure his understanding of these three qualities.

Adam

Adam is the prototype of fallen man, who is, through Christ, given the greatest redemption; he is the companion of the three apostles and sits enthroned at the left hand of the Virgin.

Saint Bernard

Saint Bernard is Dante’s guide during the last stage of his journey, when he comes before the throne of the queen of heaven.

Characters

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Last Updated on January 14, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 870

Beatrice

Beatrice summons Virgil from limbo (Inferno 2) to lead Dante through hell, up the Mount of Purgatory to the Garden of Eden. She sits with the blessed in the heavenly rose, where she waits to replace Virgil as Dante’s guide (Purgatory 30). Beatrice, “bringer of blessedness,” is therefore largely responsible for Dante’s salvation. The historical Beatrice Portinari (1266–90) was the daughter of Folco Portinari, a wealthy Florentine, and his wife, Simone dei Bardi. In his Vita Nuova (New Life), Dante claims to have met and fallen in love with her when they were about nine years old. The Vita Nuova consists of love poems Dante wrote to Beatrice, which he connected with prose commentaries. The physical love he had for her, which is the subject of the Vita Nuova, was transformed into the spiritual love that enabled his salvation, which is the subject of The Divine Comedy.

Dante

Dante the character is Dante the poet’s alter ego, a kind of “Everyman” (someone whom everyone can relate to) whose travels the reader follows, experiencing the three regions while he does. Ideally, as Dante learns from his encounters with countless shades, the reader attains, along with him, a degree of enlightenment. Virgil, author of The Aeneid, traditionally seen as the voice of reason, leads Dante through hell and purgatory, where Dante learns about the nature of sin in all its guises. Through Virgil’s instruction, which is sometimes imperfect, Dante learns, most importantly, not to pity sinners but to have compassion for them, not to hate the sinner but the sin. Virgil takes Dante to the Garden of Eden at the top of the Mountain of Purgatory, where Matilda becomes their guide (Purgatory 28). She leads them through the garden and gives way to Beatrice (Purgatory 30), who takes Dante the rest of the way through purgatory and up into heaven. There Saint Bernard (Paradise 31) replaces her and guides Dante until he is able to travel on his own.

Dante the poet and Dante the character are not the same, at least not until the final few lines of the poem. Dante the poet tells us that he actually made this journey to God and was told to return to earth and write what he saw. Like his alter ego, the poet was naive and unschooled when he entered hell’s mouth. He returns to his earthly life a wiser person, secure in the knowledge that there is a place reserved for him in heaven (which he will occupy after spending time in purgatory for being prideful). Only after Dante the character makes the journey and attains the poet’s wisdom through experience, only after he meets God face to face in Paradise, do the poet and character merge. There, for a brief moment, the poem’s past tense shifts to the present, to Dante’s Florence, where the two become one, as the poet writes the character’s vision of God and his recounting that vision.

Ulysses

Ulysses is the crafty hero of Homer’s epic Greek poem The Odyssey. Ulysses is the son of Laertes, King of Ithaca, and father of Telemachus. Homer’s poem tells the tale of his wandering for twenty years after the Trojan War and of his return to Ithaca. Dante created the events he tells about Ulysses and his crew and places him in hell with his Greek warrior companion, Diomed (Inferno 26). There he has the proud Ulysses tell of how he disobeyed Hercules’s instructions and convinced his men to sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules and the bounds of the known world. He explains how they sailed into the southern hemisphere, where they saw Dante’s Mount of Purgatory just before their ship was pulled beneath the waves where they all perished. Dante uses the story as a contrast to his own, which was divinely sanctioned.

Virgil

Publius Vergilius Maro (70–19 BCE) was one of the greatest Roman poets and is Dante the character’s guide through hell and most of purgatory. Virgil’s Aeneid tells the story of Aeneas’s founding of Rome after the Trojan War and was a major inspiration for Dante’s Divine Comedy. In the famous book 6 of The Aeneid, the pagan Aeneas travels to the underworld, where he sees the wicked suffering and the virtuous living a life of comfort and ease. This episode provided Dante, along with other literary accounts of underworld journeys, with the basic structure for his vision of the Christian hell. During the Middle Ages, Virgil had a reputation as a magician and wizard. Saint Augustine, the emperor Constantine, and others thought Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue prophesied Christ’s birth. Dante and Virgil encounter the Roman poet Statius (45–96) on the Mountain of Purgatory (Purgatory 21), where Statius claims that Virgil's Fourth Eclogue was responsible for his conversion to Christianity.

Virgil’s Aeneid was the basic Latin textbook in medieval schools. Students learned grammar, rhetoric, and the language by translating Virgil’s Latin. Dante would have been no exception. Since Latin was the language of the literate in the Middle Ages and since most people learned it from Virgil, his Aeneid was one of the most well-known books. It is still used in many Latin courses today.

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