The Inferno, part one of Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy, is the most imaginative poem that I’ve read in my life. I’m yet to read Purgatorio and Paradiso, but I doubt if any other poetic work can surpass Dante’s Divine Comedy.
The Inferno is where Dante walks through Hell with his guide Virgil, the famous poet who wrote The Aeneid who was sent to him by Beatrice, Dante’s devoted love interest, who is in Paradise. His creation of Hell is influenced by Christian theology, philosophy, and former literary works of Virgil, Ovid, Homer, and the like. However, Virgil’s Aeneid is said to be the most associated literary text with The Divine Comedy.
Dante’s Hell is funnel-shaped and has nine tiers that punish different sins. At the bottom is Lucifer. It is fascinating to see how imaginative and creative Dante has been in inventing the different tiers of hell, the sins which are punished in them, and the punishment types. The punishments which begin lightly in the first tier get gruesome as you go down the tiers. Some of the characters (sinners) in Hell include the real-life people Dante knew (some who were not even dead at the time of Dante’s fictitious journey through hell) as well as classical and mythological characters that were drawn from famous, old literary works.
I was awestruck by the graphic account of Hell given in such beautiful lyrical verses. Even the gruesome details of punishment of the sinners were made less horrific because the verses describing them were melodious. It also produced the intended eerie and dismal effect. The sinners, chosen from those existed and existing people and also from some of the most loved mythical characters, give the poem a sense of reality as well as fantasy.
It is amazing that a work written in the thirteenth century can have such a strong impression on modern readers. But given the power of imagination and creativity poured into this work, it is not surprising the reverent popularity The Divine Comedy has acquired and maintained throughout the centuries.