Lost in a dark wood and threatened by three beasts, Dante is rescued by Vergil, who proposes a journey to the other world. To settle Dante's doubts about his worthiness to take the journey, Vergil tells of how Beatrice came down from Heaven to beg his help. Vergil and Dante then enter the... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Lost in a dark wood and threatened by three beasts, Dante is rescued by Vergil, who proposes a journey to the other world. To settle Dante's doubts about his worthiness to take the journey, Vergil tells of how Beatrice came down from Heaven to beg his help. Vergil and Dante then enter the gates of Hell. There they first encounter the small-souled, those unnamed spirits whose cowardice relegates them to the vestibule of the lower world. Passing onward, they come to the river Acheron, whose ferryman, Charon, ushers the gathered souls to their eternal misery. Dante and Vergil then descend into the abyss.
They enter the first of the nine concentric rings of Hell, that of Limbo, the Rim, where dwell, neither in joy nor in suffering, all unbaptized infants and those men and women who lived virtuously but who lacked the true faith. There they meet Homer and the great poets of old and Aristotle and the great philosophers. Then the poets descend into the realm of the damned. After meeting and defying Minos, the monstrous judge over all of the entering souls, they enter the second circle, that of the lustful. Here they listen to the tale of Paolo and Francesca, noble young people murdered in the act of adulterous love. After eluding Cerberus, the triple-headed beast of Hell, the poets enter the third ring, where the gluttonous are punished in a storm of cold rain. There Dante speaks with Ciacco, a fellow Florentine, who foretells strife for a city divided by injustice and greed.
Passing by the jabbering Plutus, guardian of the fourth circle, Dante and Vergil see where the unnamed Avaricious, in teams of misers and squanderers, roll huge boulders at one another while jeering at one another's vices. Vergil explains to Dante the role of Fortune in the governance of the world. Continuing, they reach the fifth circle, the river Styx, where the wrathful and the sullen are punished. The poets are ferried over the Styx by the boatman Phlegyas. On their way, they meet the angry Filippo Argenti, drive him off when he tries to harass them, and watch in pleasure as the others rip him to pieces. Finally they land at the shores of inner Hell, outside the walls of the city of Dis, where they are refused entry by the fallen angels. Waiting for the angel from Heaven, the poets see the Furies upon the ramparts and hear them call for the Gorgon, Medusa, the sight of whom would turn a man to stone. Vergil shields Dante from looking at her. At last the angel arrives and opens the gates. Dante and Vergil then enter the sixth circle, where the heretics are confined to tombs of fire. Dante speaks to the Epicurean heretic Farinata, valorous leader of one of the Florentine factions. They are interrupted by Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti, the father of Dante's friend and fellow poet Guido Cavalcanti, and he is dismayed to hear, as he thinks, that Guido is dead. Dante resumes speaking with Farinata, who prophesies Dante's exile from Florence and explains to Dante the limits of the knowledge of the damned.
Before they descend further, Virgil explains to Dante the structure of lower Hell. The last three rings punish violence, fraud, and treachery, with the ring of violence subdivided according to the one violated: one's neighbor, oneself, or God--either in God's own person or in His handmaid Nature. The poets then descend into the seventh circle, which is guarded by the Minotaur. At the base of the embankment, they meet the Centaurs, led by Chiron, who shoot arrows at murderers standing in the river Phlegethon, a boiling stream as red as blood. The centaur Nessus identifies the sinners and carries Dante across the ford.
Dante and Vergil enter a dark, thorny forest, the second round of the seventh circle, that of the suicides and the spoilers of their own substance. The suicides are imprisoned in thorn trees, and the spoilers are hunted through the forest by snapping dogs. Dante speaks to Pier della Vigna, a poet and courtier who slew himself rather than endure slander. Then they encounter the spoilers Lano de Siena and Jacopo da Sant' Andrea, the latter disturbing the tree of an unnamed Florentine. Taking leave of the Florentine, Dante and Vergil enter the third round of the seventh circle, that of the violent against God. These are punished in a rain of fire that kindles the desert sands beneath them. They are also divided into three groups, the first of which, the blasphemers, lie flat. After Vergil rebukes the blasphemer Capaneus, he identifies the five rivers of the other world and describes how the four that flow in Hell spring from the tears of the Old Man of Crete. Dante and Vergil meet the second group of the violent against God: the Sodomites, who run continually through the hailing fire. One of their group, a Florentine politician and poet named Brunetto Latini, recognizes his protege Dante and discusses with him Dante's own future and that of Florence. After naming some of the others who share his sin, Brunetto must hurry away. Continuing in the third round of the seventh ring, that of the violent against God, the poets meet three noble Florentines who discuss with Dante the corruption of their native city. Moving on toward the precipice that forms the edge of this ring, Vergil asks Dante for his belt and casts it into the chasm below, summoning the monster Geryon, symbol of fraud. Vergil instructs Dante to walk further along the stone dike to witness the last group of the violent against God: the nameless usurers, who take the rain of fire sitting down and who can be identified only by the insignia of the purses hung around their necks. When Dante returns, the poets descend into the eighth circle, that of the fraudulent, flying on the back of Geryon.
The eighth circle is divided into ten pockets or ditches, each punishing a different sort of fraud. The ninth and final circle of Hell is that of the traitors. Finally, the poets arrive at the sinkhole of Hell, Judecca, where the betrayers of benefactors are punished, most of them completely encased in ice. Here Dante beholds Satan himself, chewing, in his three mouths, Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius. With Dante on his back, Vergil climbs down Satan's matted hide, reaches the center of the earth, and exits through a cavern.
“'Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate!'=> 'Abandon all hope, you who enter!'"”The warning sign -- in somber colors -- atop the gate of Hell
“Midway upon the journey of our lifeI found myself within a forest dark,For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”Dante
“. . . One day, for pleasure,We read of Lancelot, by love constrained:Alone, suspecting nothing, at our leisure.. . .And so was he who wrote it; that day we read. . .No further. . . .”Francesca speaks these lines in Canto V when she tells Dante the story of her love affair with Paolo, her husband’s brother, for which they are now both condemned to the tempest of the Second Circle of Hell (V.112–124).
“I did not open them—for to be rudeTo such a one as him was courtesy.”Dante speaks these lines in reference to a promise, in Canto XXXIII, to open Fra Alberigo’s eyes for him (XXXIII.146–147).
“To get back up to the shining world from thereMy guide and I went into that hidden tunnel;Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.”Dante. These concluding words of Inferno describe Dante and Virgil’s climb out of the underworld and back to the surface of the Earth (XXXIV.134–140).
“"Canst thou be Virgil? thou that fount of splendour Whence poured so wide a stream of lordly speech?" Said I, and bowed my awe-struck head in wonder;”Dante when first meeting Virgil
“Now, Muses, now, high Genius, do your part! And Memory, faithful scrivener to the eyes, Here show thy virtue, noble as thou art!”Dante in Canto II (paying homage to similar lines in both Homer's and Virgil's epics)
“ch'i' non averei creduto che more tanta n'avesse disfatta: I had not thought Death had undone so many.”Dante upon entering the gates of Hell, Canto 3.56-57
“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vitami ritrovai per una selva oscurache la diritta via era smarrita. (When I had journeyed half our life's way,I found myself within a shadowed forest,for I had lost the path that does not stray.)”Dante, Canto 1.1-3
Followed by Purgatorio.
The alert is not only because of the graphic mental images the poem evokes, but more so because of the level of maturity an understanding of the poem requires. Fascinating creatures aside, Dante's poem is heavy. It attempts to explain the concept of Divine Justice -- by showing how different kinds of sins warrant corresponding kinds/degrees of horrifying punishment. (Dante resorts to generous poetic license, obviously.). Although children 9-12 would be able to understand what's written on the surface, because of their LIMITED experience – let us hope! -- with lust, despair, murder, treachery..., there would unlikely be enough traction for insightful absorption of the material.
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