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Dante's Inferno: Summary and Study Guide

written by: KellenKautzman • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 8/2/2012

Have you ever heard of Dante's circles of hell? This Dante's Inferno summary guides you through the dark path traveled by Dante and Virgil.

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    The Author

    Dante Dante Alighieri, born 1265 in Florence, Italy, is widely known as the author of the three-part series called The Divine Comedy in which there are three books: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. This Dante's Inferno summary focuses on the key elements of Dante's classic work.

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    In the Woods

    Blake Dante Inferno Gustave Doré - Dante Alighieri - Inferno - Plate 4 (Dante meets Virgil) Dante’s inferno begins in the year 1300 on Good Friday. Dante is walking through the woods and is afraid that he has lost his way. He begins to climb a mountain, but a leopard, she-wolf, and a lion appear and block his way up the mountain. He returns to the woods where Virgil, the Roman poet, appears as a ghost set on guiding Dante to the top of the mountain. Virgil explains that the path will lead through Hell.

    “Abandon hope, you who enter here” is etched on the gates of Hell as Virgil and Dante approach them. The space outside of Hell, named the Ante-Inferno, is filled with people running forever while bees sting them and worms drink their blood.

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    Circles of Hell

    Circle One - Limbo

    Here the pagans, the non-Christians, live. This includes Virgil as well as many of the famous historical writers of the time.

    Circle Two - Lust

    When crossing the border into the second circle, a monster named Minos condemns souls to their respective punishments. The amount of times that Minos curls his tails equals the circle of Hell that the condemned soul will go to. There is a woman that Dante meets, Francesca, who had an affair with her husband’s brother, thereby condemning her to the second circle. Also, in the second level of Hell, there is a storm in which the lustful souls are thrown about.

    Circle Three - Gluttony

    The three-headed dog, Cerberus, guards the third circle. The gluttonous people are forced to lie in mud while filth rains on them.

    Circle Four - Wasting, Being Miserly

    Those that spend too much, or don’t spend at all, waste their time pushing a gigantic rock against one another.

    Circle Five - Wrath

    The river Styx is on the fifth circle of Hell, and it is a disgusting pool where wrathful people fight with one another. In the fifth circle of Hell, Virgil and Dante approach the city Dis. Angels have to force the gates of the city open.

    Circle Six Heresy

    The heretics are living in smoking tombs. Dante comes across Farinata, a political opponent.

    Dantes Inferno Canto 28 Circle Seven - Violence, Suicide, Blasphemy, Sodomy

    Here, in the seventh circle, there is a river of boiling blood and a forest of souls that became suffering trees. Dante and Virgil meet a group of Centaurs, half horse, half man. Nessus, a Centaur, takes them to the second ring of Hell.

    Circle Eight 8 Pockets (Various Sins)

    The eighth circle of Hell has pockets. In each pocket a different type of sinner is found: Seducers, Flatterers, Simoniacs, Astrologers, the Bribed, Hypocrites, Thieves, and Spiritual Thieves all receive some special torture in one of the pockets in the eighth level of Hell.

    Circle NineBetrayers of Family, Treason

    The ninth level of Hell is frozen. Satan is chewing on Cassius and Brutus, those that betrayed Julius Caesar. He is, also, forever chewing upon Judas, the man who betrayed Christ.

    The Inferno ends with Virgil and Dante reaching the river of forgetfulness and eventually finding Earth again. They find their way out of Hell on Easter morning.

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    Dante's Inferno Summary

    Dante and Virgil travel through the nine circles of Hell and encounter sins on every level symbolized by a different form of torture.

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