The Divine Comedy: Inferno


“All hope abandon, ye who enter in!”

The Inferno, constructed in “Terza rima” poetic verses, has unyielding descriptions of hell clothed in “live actors” of people in Dante’s time and other historical figures.  Depressingly he fills the rafters of hell with politicians, poets, clerks, warriors, and popes.  Seemingly no one escapes the gates of hell in this horrible imaginative creation of Dante.   To be fair, I have had two “passes” at the Inferno.  The first a direct read and the second a review by Wyoming Catholic College distance learning course below.  Still, I am like a tourist on a trolley, having only skimmed the avenues of a great city, taking in only glimpses of its intensity. Nonetheless, the horrors of Dante’s imagination plunge us into the depths of hell and painstakingly make real the physical and grotesque forms of various sins – lived by the residents of hell in eternity. Wretchedly, aspects of our nature and Dante’s Inferno surround us everyday.  Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to read the Divine Comedy in preparation for the year of Mercy.  Hopefully the Purgatorio and Paradiso will be more uplifting and provide hope that the imagination and spirituality of the latter two books offer more in the arena of redemption and salvation.

Side bar on Mohammed and Muslims:  “Consistent with medieval Christian thinking, in which the Muslim world was viewed as a hostile usurper, Dante depicts both Mohammed–the founder of Islam–and his cousin and son-in-law Ali as sowers of religious divisiveness. One popular view held that Mohammed had himself been a cardinal who, his papal ambitions thwarted, caused a great schism within Christianity when he and his followers splintered off into a new religious community. Dante creates a vicious composite portrait of the two holy men, with Mohammed’s body split from groin to chin and Ali’s face cleft from top to bottom (Inf. 28.22-33). According to tradition, the prophet Mohammed founded Islam in the early seventh century C.E. at Mecca. Ali married Mohammed’s daughter, Fatima, but a dispute over Ali’s succession to the caliphate led, after his assassination in 661, to a division among Muslims into Sunni and Shi’ite. Still very much part of the collective memory in Dante’s world were the crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries, in which Christian armies from Europe fought–mostly unsuccessfully and with heavy losses on all sides–to drive Muslims out of the “holy land” (Jerusalem and surrounding areas). In the Middle Ages, Islam had great influence in Europe in terms of both culture–particularly in medicine, philosophy, and mathematics–and politics (e.g., complete or partial Muslim control of Spain from the 8th through 15th century).”

Guide to the Inferno:

Terrifying excerpts:

“Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”

“Which many times a man encumbers so, It turns him back from honored enterprise, As false sight doth a beast, when he is so shy.”

“These have no longer any hope of death; And this blind life of theirs is so debased, They envious of every other fate.”

“Tell me, my Master, tell me, thou my Lord, Began I, with desire of being certain Of that Faith which o’ercomenth every error,” “Came anyone by his own merit hence, or by another’s, who was blessed thereafter?

“The infernal hurricane that never rest   Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine; Whirling them round, and smitting, it molest them.”

“New torments I behold, and new tormented Around me, whichsoever way I move, And whichsoever way I turn, and gaze.”

“And he to me:  “Vain thought thou entertainest; The undiscerning life which made them sordid Now makes them unto all discernment dim.”

“Let him return alone by his mad road; Try, if he can; for thou shalt here remain, Who hast escorted him through such dark regions.”

“My Master, what are all those people Who, having sepulture within those tombs, Make themselves audible by doleful sighs.”

“As soon as I was at the foot of his tomb, Somewhat he eyed me, and, as if disdainful, Than asked of me, “Who are thine ancestors?”

“And there, by reason of the horrible Excess of stench the deep abyss throws out, We drew ourselves aside behind the cover  Of a of a great tomb….”

“All the first circle of the Violent is; But since force may be used against three persons, In three rounds ’tis divided and constructed.   To God, to ourselves, and to our neighbor can we Use force; I say on them and on their things, As thou shalt hear with reason manifest.”

“But fix thine eyes below, for draweth near The river of blood, within which boiling is Whoe’er by violence doth injure others.”

“Broad wings have they, and necks and faces human, And feet with claws, and their great bellies fledged, They make laments upon the wondrous trees.”

“And he said to me:  “If thou thy star do follow, Thou canst not fail thee of a glorious port, If well I judged in the life beautiful.”

“Athwart that dense and darkness atmosphere I saw a figure swimming upward come, marvelous unto every steadfast heart.”

“Then was I still more fearful of the abyss; Because I fires beheld, and heard laments, Whereat I, trembling, all the closer cling.”

“I saw a people smothered in a filth That out of human privies seemed to flow.”

“I would make use of words more grievous still; Because your avarice afflicts the world, Trampling the good and lifting the departed.”

“And yesterday the moon was round already; Thou shouldst remember well it did not harm thee From time to time within the forest deep.”

Celestial Messenger

“Ah, how ferocious was he in his aspect! And how he seemed to me action ruthless, With open wings and light upon his feet!”

“Whereat each one was suddenly stung with shame, But he most who was cause of the defeat, Therefore he moved and cried: ‘Thou art o’ertaken.”

“Hardly the bed of the ravine below His feet had reached the hill Right over us.”

“Among this cruel and most dismal throng People were running naked and affrighted.”

“The one transfixed looked at it, but said naught, Nay, rather with feet motionless he yawned, Just as if sleep or fever had assailed him.”

“Within the fires the spirits are; Each swathes himself with that wherewith he burns.”

“The machinations and the covert ways I knew them all, and practiced so their craft, That to the ends of earth the sound went forth.”

“By the hair it held the head dissevered, Hung from the hand in fashion of a lantern, And that upon us gazed and said:  “O me!”

“Such a stench came from it As from putrescent limbs is wont to issue.”

“And after the two maniacs had passed On Whom I held mine eye, I turned it back To Look upon the other evil-born.”

“For where the argument of intellect Is added unto evil will and power, No rampant can the people make against it.”

“Thou thou strip off my hair, I will not tell thee who I am, nor show thee, If on my head a thousand times thou fall.”

“Then hunger did what sorrow could not.”

“Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.”




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