The Divine Comedy is composed of three canticas — Inferno ( Hell ), Purgatorio ( Purgatory ), and Paradiso ( Paradise )
composed each of 33 cantos (or "canti"). The very first canto serves as an introduction to the poem and is generally not considered to be part of the first cantica , bringing the total number of cantos to 100.
The number 3 is prominent in the work, represented here by the length of each cantica . The verse scheme used, terza rima , with the lines composing tercets according to the rhyme scheme ABA BCB CDC . . . YZY Z.
hendecasyllable (line of eleven syllables),
These are structured according to the classical (Aristotelian) conception of virtue and vice, so that they are grouped into the sins of incontinence, violence, and fraud (which for many commentators are represented by the leopard, lion, and she-wolf). The sins of incontinence — weakness in controlling one's desires and natural urges — are the mildest among them, and, correspondingly, appear first:
The number 3 is prominent in the work. The verse scheme used, terza rima , with the lines composing tercets according to the rhyme scheme ABA BCB CDC . . . YZY Z. hendecasyllable (line of eleven syllables), 06/04/09
The poet tells in the first person his travel through the three realms of the dead,
The poem begins on Good Friday of the year 1300 , "In the middle of our life's journey" ( Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita ), and so opens in medias res .
Dante is thirty-five years old, half of the biblically allotted age of 70 ( Psalm 90:10), lost in a dark wood (perhaps, allegorically, contemplating suicide —as "wood" is figured in Canto XIII, and also the mention of suicide is made in Canto I of Purgatorio with "This man has not yet seen his last evening; But, through his madness, was so close to it,
That there was hardly time to turn about" implying that when Virgil came to him he was on the verge of suicide or morally passing the point of no return), assailed by beasts (a lion , a leopard , and a she-wolf ; allegorical depictions of temptations towards sin) he cannot evade, and unable to find the "straight way" ( diritta via ) to salvation (symbolized by the sun behind the mountain).
Conscious that he is ruining himself, that he is falling into a "deep place" ( basso loco ) where the sun is silent (' l sol tace ),
The Roman poet Virgil guides him through Hell and Purgatory; Beatrice , Dante's ideal woman, guides him through Heaven.
Dante passes through the gate of hell, on which is inscribed the famous phrase " Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate ", or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”
Before entering Hell completely, Dante and his guide see the Opportunists, souls of people who in life did nothing, neither for good nor evil (among these Dante recognizes either Pope Celestine V , or Pontius Pilate ; the text is ambiguous).
Mixed with them are the outcasts, who took no side in the Rebellion of Angels . These souls are neither in Hell nor out of it, but reside on the shores of the Acheron , their punishment to eternally pursue a banner, and be pursued by wasps and hornets that continually sting them while maggots and other such insects drink their blood and tears.
This symbolizes the sting of their conscience and the repugnance of sin.
Then Dante and Virgil reach the ferry that will take them across the river Acheron and to Hell proper. The ferry is piloted by Charon , who does not want to let Dante enter, for he is a living being. Virgil forces Charon to take them, but their passage across is undescribed since Dante faints and does not awake until he is on the other side.
Here reside the unbaptized and the virtuous pagans , who, though not sinful, did not accept Christ.
Here also reside those who, if they lived before the coming of Christ, did not pay fitting homage to their respective deity.
They are not punished in an active sense, but rather grieve only their separation from God, without hope of reconciliation.
The chief irony in this circle is that Limbo shares many characteristics with Elysian Fields , thus the guiltless damned are punished by living in their deficient form of heaven. Their fault was that they lacked faith — the hope for something greater than rational minds can conceive.
Limbo includes green fields and a castle, the dwelling place of the wisest men of antiquity, including Virgil himself.
On the way they are accosted by Filippo Argenti , a Black Guelph from a prominent family. ( VIII)
The lower parts of hell are contained within the walls of the city of Dis , which is itself surrounded by the Stygian marsh. Punished within Dis are active (rather than passive) sins. The walls of Dis are guarded by fallen angels . Virgil is unable to convince them to let Dante and him enter, and the Furies and Medusa threaten Dante. An angel sent from Heaven secures entry for the poets.
Phlegyas reluctantly transports Dante and Virgil across the Styx in his skiff. 06/04/09
The Heretics (Circle 6) Canto IX - XI 06/04/09
Dante holds discourse with a pair of Florentines in one of the tombs:
Farinata degli Uberti , a Ghibelline; and
Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti , a Guelph who was the father of Dante's friend, fellow poet Guido Cavalcanti .
Farinata degli Uberti Addresses Dante 06/04/09
The Violent Against Neighbors (Circle 7) (Canto XII)
This circle houses the violent. Its entry is guarded by the Minotaur ,
it is divided into three rings:
Outer ring , housing the violent against people and property, who are immersed in Phlegethon , a river of boiling blood, to a level commensurate with their sins. The centaur Nessus guides the poets along Phlegethon and across a ford in the river. (Canto XII)
Minotaur The guard of the entrance of the 7 th circle 06/04/09
Middle ring: In this ring are the suicides, who are transformed into gnarled thorny bushes and trees.
They are torn at by the Harpies . Unique among the dead, the suicides will not be bodily resurrected after the final judgment. Instead they will maintain their bushy form, with their own corpses hanging from the limbs.
Dante breaks a twig off of one of the bushes and hears the tale of Pier delle Vigne , who committed suicide after falling out of favor with Emperor Frederick II . 06/04/09
The other residents of this ring are the profligates, who destroyed their lives by destroying the means by which life is sustained (i.e. money and property).
They are perpetually chased by ferocious dogs through the thorny undergrowth. (Canto XIII)
The trees are a metaphor; in life the only way of the relief of suffering was through pain (i.e. suicide) and in Hell, the only form of relief of the suffering is through pain (breaking of the limbs to bleed).
Inner ring: The violent against God ( blasphemers ), the violent against nature ( sodomites ), and the violent against art ( usurers ),
all reside in a desert of flaming sand with fiery flakes raining from the sky.
Those punished here for usury include Florentines Catello di Rosso Gianfigliazzi , Ciappo Ubriachi , and Giovanni di Buiamonte , and Paduans Reginaldo degli Scrovegni and Vitaliano di Iacopo Vitaliani .
Capaneus is condemned to lie supine on a plain of burning sand while fire rains down on him. He continues to curse the deity (whom, being a pagan, he addresses as "Jove" aka Jupiter) despite the ever harsher pains he thus inflicts upon himself, so that God "thereby should not have glad vengeance.“
Dante sees Capaneus in the seventh circle (third round) of Hell,
Along with the other blasphemers, or those "violent against God",
According to the legend, Capaneus had immense strength and body size and was an outstanding warrior.
He was also notorious for his arrogance. He stood just at the wall of Thebes at the siege of Thebes and shouted that Jove (Jupiter) himself could not stop him from invading it
Hypocrites listlessly walking along wearing gold-gilded lead cloaks.
Dante speaks with Catalano and Loderingo , members of the Jovial Friars .
the poets also discover that the guardians of the fraudulent (the malebranche) are hypocrites themselves, as they find that they have lied to them, giving false directions, when at the same time they are punishing liars for similar sins. (Canto XXIII)
The sinners in the mouths of Satan are Brutus and Cassius in the left and right mouths, respectively, who were involved in the assassination of Julius Caesar (an act which, to Dante, represented the destruction of a unified Italy ), and Judas Iscariot (the namesake of this zone) in the central, most vicious mouth, who betrayed Jesus .
Judas is being administered the most horrifying torture of the three traitors, his head in the mouth of Lucifer, and his back being forever skinned by the claws of Lucifer. (Canto XXXIV)
What is seen here is a perverted trinity. Satan is impotent, ignorant, and evil while God can be attributed as the opposite: all powerful, all knowing, and good.
Satan The two poets escape by climbing down the ragged fur of Lucifer, passing through the center of the earth, emerging in the other hemisphere just before dawn on Easter Sunday beneath a sky studded with stars.