Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and Its Influence on the Renaissance

The Divine Comedy, written by Dante Alighieri, is a three-part Italian narrative poem published in 1472. In this poem, Dante takes the reader through Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise). While doing this, he explores the essence of sin and how it disengages humans from their relationship with God. The Nine Circles of Hell include Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice and Prodigality, Wrath and Sullenness, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery. The Seven Terraces of Purgatory, which relate to the seven deadly sins, are Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust. The Nine Spheres of Heaven include the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Fixed Stars, and the Primum Mobile. Because of its significance over centuries, The Divine Comedy has been translated into several languages, even so, that Inferno has over 200 translations in English.

The publication of the Divine Comedy has had a monumental involvement with the Renaissance as a whole. For instance, the language that the Divine Comedy was written in. During this time, it was common to read poems written only in Latin because it was “considered to be the only language suitable for literary and philosophical purposes” (How Did Dante Influence the Renaissance – DailyHistory.Org, n.d.). He later resulted in writing the Divine Comedy in the language of Tuscan and also used influences from other Italian regional languages and Latin. This encouraged and motivated future writers to write in Tuscan, such as Petrarch and Boccaccio.

Sandro Botticelli’s illustration of Lucifer in Canto 34.

Another way The Divine Comedy influenced the Renaissance was through his description of Lucifer and Inferno. A painter by the name of Sandro Botticelli illustrated The Divine Comedy in its entirety. One painting, in particular, depicts the image of Lucifer in Canto 34. Dante describes Lucifer with three faces and in each mouth, he is chewing up sinners, and six ginormous wings: “Oh how great a marvel did it seem to me, when I saw three faces on his head! One was in front, and that was crimson;”… “In each of his mouths he was breaking a sinner with his teeth in the manner of a scutch, so that he made three suffer at once.” (Canto 34). Botticelli illustrated exactly that. Dante’s portrayal changed the way many viewed Lucifer in this time, and with the help of Botticelli, readers are able to place an image in their heads of what Lucifer looks like.

These are only a few of the immense amount of ways Dante’s Divine Comedy has influenced the Renaissance, and he will forever be recognized as one of the first “Renaissance Men” in history.

  • How did Dante influence the Renaissance – DailyHistory.org. (n.d.). Daily History. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://dailyhistory.org/How_did_Dante_influence_the_Renaissance
  • Inferno Quotes | Explanations with Page Numbers. (n.d.). LitCharts. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.litcharts.com/lit/inferno/quotes
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance art (article). (n.d.). Khan Academy. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/late-gothic-italy/florence-late-gothic/a/dantes-divine-comedy-in-late-medieval-and-early-renaissance-art
  • Shibboleth Authentication Request. (n.d.). Ebookcentral.Proquest.Com. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from http://ccny-proxy1.libr.ccny.cuny.edu/login?url=http://ccny-proxy1.libr.ccny.cuny.edu/ebrary/ccny-ebooks/unauthorized&url=https%3A%2F%2Febookcentral.proquest.com%2Flib%2Fccny-ebooks%2Freader.action%3FdocID%3D693941

The role women played in Dante’s exploration and how they were portrayed in Inferno

The Divine Comedy is the name a poem written in the early fourteenth century by Dante Alighieri. It follows Dante through his journey and discoveries as he makes his way to Paradiso also known as Heaven. As we dissected and analyzed Inferno it was evident the importance of the women characters, the way women were portrayed/illustrated as well as the role they played in helping Dante make his way through Inferno and Purgatorio and in his discoveries. 

The first woman to be mentioned in Inferno was Beatrice, Dante’s departed lover. She appears in Canto 2 as the person who sent Virgil to help guide Dante through Hell. She is mentioned through Virgil’s point of view once met with Dante. Alighieri wrote Beatrice to be a beautiful woman ‘true praise of god’(Canto 2: 103) whose eyes are ‘shinning brighter than the morning star’ (Canto 2: 55-56) and whose faith will save her from the evil and the dangers that hide in hell. Her love for Dante caused her worry to grow as he was in search of the mountain that leads to Heaven causing her to leave heaven and go to hell to get Virgil to guide Dante. ”A friend, not of my fortune but myself, On the wide desert in his road has met Hindrance so great, that he through fear has turn’d. How much I dread lest he past help have stray’d, And I be ris’n too late for his relief, From what in heaven of him I heard. And may, I fear, already be so lost, That I too late have risen to his succour, From that which I have heard of him in Heaven.”(Canto 2: 61-66) Her overwhelming worry for Dante was far beyond her care for her own well-being. Her love for Dante allowed him to pass the beasts he encountered and acts as a shield of armor as he makes his way through hell.

Once he makes it into the second circle of hell he encounters Francesca. Francesca was a woman whose lust over her brother-in-law caused her to be sent to hell and one of the rulers of Ravenna. She was married to Gianciotto, the man who killed her for committing adultery with his brother Paolo. In the Canto, she expressed her belief that she was compelled by her love for Paolo for she couldn’t control her urges. She was described to be ‘as a beautiful, gentle seductress’ so much so that ‘even the poet temporarily succumbs to her enchanting words.’(Stuber,2018) Alighieri focus’ the sin of lust to be more about the misconception that love controls and deprives a person of free will causing them to commit such sins rather than the actual act itself. Dante, more explicitly than other moralists and theologians, illustrates that the line between love and lust is quite thin though Francesca’s story. Alighieri allows Francesca to have more lines than all the other characters in the Canto and in those lines she describes her story on how she was sent to hell and her views on love and its power to submit someone to their sexual urges. 

Alighieri made it a priority to include women in his writing and illustrate their roles whatever the size may be with the utmost respect and importance. When it came to Francesca he allowed her to go on and have the most lines that helped with the way lust and love were described and how they differed in the Cantos. As well as making them have roles that helped Dante’s journey to Heaven like Beatrice’s stance in sending Virgil to assist and aid Dante on his expedition.

Barolini, Teodolinda, et al., What’s Love Got to Do with It? Love and Free Will. Digital Dante, from


Unknown, Circle 2, canto 5, The University of Texas at Austin, from http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/circle2.html

Unknown, Side by Side Translations of Dante’s Inferno -Canto 2, from


Smith, Catherine, Dante’s Inferno Beatrice Quotes, from https://study.com/academy/lesson/dantes-inferno-beatrice-quotes.html

Unknown, Side by Side Translations of Dante’s Inferno -Canto 5, from https://www.danteinferno.info/translations/canto5.html

Stuber, S. (2018, June 4). Reading Dante as a feminist. The Stanford Daily. Retrieved September 25, 2021, from https://www.stanforddaily.com/2018/06/04/reading-dante-as-a-feminist/.


Virgil: The man truly behind the Divine Comedy?

Portrait of Virgil; Unknown artist

Throughout all the various cantos we have read during our exploration of Dante’s Inferno, Virgil has been a recurrent and important figure in Dante’s journey through hell; he is written by Dante to be a protective, grounded, and intelligent guide. His influence on Dante is very prominent in the poem but it is also incredibly important outside of the pages as well. Virgil or “Vergil” depending on the language was a very famous and inspirational poet living in the Roman Empire during the time of Cesar Augustus; his work has been incredibly influential but none more than Aeneid. Aeneid is an epic poem that details the story of Aeneas, the ancestor of the Romans; similarly to Dante’s trenches through the circles of hell, Aeneas adventures through what is called the “underworld” and encounters many beasts. Because of Dante’s admiration for Virgil and the similarities between the two poems, many scholars have come to the conclusion that Dante “seemed to use the Aeneid as a base and the parts which he did extract from the Aeneid, he carefully altered for his own purposes and beliefs.”[1] Dante looked to Virgil’s work as an important start to creating the Divine Comedy but also turned to God for help in creating his masterpiece. Dante himself admits his love and admiration for Virgils work in Inferno Canto I in lines 85-87 when Virgil appears from the wilderness and this love is present throughout Inferno as Dante blindly follows and trusts Virgil through Hell.

It is incredibly important to remember that Virgil died before the birth of Christ and thus, was not a Christian while Dante was obviously an incredibly religious and devoted Christian. According to this, it may seem like the “purposes and beliefs” that Dante adds to Aeneid to create the Divine Comedy would be Christian ones and that is mostly true; the entirety of the Divine Comedy was influenced and borrows ideas from the Bible and the established Christian church but that does not mean that Virgil’s influence doesn’t touch on the “Divine” part of the Divine Comedy. It is also widely accepted by many people, I’m assuming by Dante as well, that Virgil “was an anima naturaliter Christiana, a prophet who, in his Fourth Eclogue, foretold the birth of Christ”[2] The Fourth Eclogue was another one of Virgil’s great works that also had an immense impact on how Dante thought of Virgil; the fact that Virgil is shown in Inferno as a figure of great wisdom and intelligence(he was able to predict the birth of Jesus Christ as stated before) but not divine enough to enter into to Paradiso with Dante( he was stated to have died a pagan). Virgil is an indispensable part of Inferno and of the incredible work that is the Divine Comedy in general both as a character and as an influence on the work itself.

Dante’s use of Contrapasso

In Dantes Inferno, Virgil guides Dante through the nine circles of hell, where sinners are punished. Each circle has a particular punishment that corresponds to sins. Dante converses with the sinners and examines their penalty. The degree and nature of the sin determine the type of punishment. This is called contrapasso. The word contrapasso is a Latin term meaning “suffer the opposite”. Dante uses contrapasso throughout the inferno to establish God’s justice.
In canto 25, Dante enters the eighth circle back on Florence. Dante comes across a centaur that is covered in serpents and a dragon riding his back. The centaur is revealed to be a man named Caucus who was punished for stealing cattle from Hercules. Dante explains this by saying “ He does not follow the same path as his brothers, because he fraudulently stole the great herd he found…”( Alighieri, Canto 25, 28-30). After, three spirits approach Dante asking who he is. A serpent pounces on one of the spirits and wraps itself around them as they speak. The spirits and the serpent begin to merge together. In this canto, thieves were being punished. For their punishment, they are converted into serpents. The punishment and the sin directly relate to each other. Since thieves deprive others of their belongings, their punishment must deprive them of something. The only thing that they have left in hell is their human form which is taken by the serpent. Now the thieves have nothing left. In Dante’s view, God is serving justice by feeding the sinners back their own sins.

The Six-Footed Serpent Attacking Agnolo Brunelleschi
1826–7- William Blake

In canto 32, Dante and Virgil reach the ninth circle of hell. Dante sees a frozen lake with sinners frozen up to their necks. He then sees two spirits close together budding their heads. These spirits are revealed to be brothers who killed each other. This frozen lake is for those who betrayed their own family members. The spirits trapped in ice are a symbol that people who betray others are furthest from God’s warmth. Their punishment is suited for their sin. People who betray other people are cold. They disregard other people’s feelings and do what suits them best. They also don’t care about the connection they have to others. Putting them in a frozen lake would grant them the same coldness that they gave to other people during the betrayal. For example, Dante emphasizes this by saying that “ … from their eyes their wicked hearts exact testimony among them.” ( Alighieri, Canto 32, 38-39). This shows how their “wicked hearts” were linked to being cold by Dante, who described their frozen state as a “testimony. This is considered as a form of retribution for Dante and God.
Overall, Dante’s hell employs contrapasso to demonstrate God’s justice in hell. He also used to show the severity of each sin. The punishment was their own sins being inflicted on them. This aids Dante in bringing order to his hell. There are many other uses of contrapasso in Dante’s inferno.

Alighieri, Dante, Durling, Robert, Martinez, Robert, Turner, Robert. (1996, February 29). The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Inferno. Oxford University Press USA. Retrieved September 26, 2021, from

The depiction of Love in Inferno

In the Inferno, Love is depicted in many different forms. Dante’s motivation to make his journey through hell was because of the love Beatrice, who is in heaven, had for him. The reason why she left heaven was because she wanted Virgil to guide Dante through hell. (see Inf. 2, 133-142) Besides Beatrice, Dante’s startling journey through hell was continuously motivated by the love he had either for Vigil, Beatrice, or God. When Dante enters hell, he realizes that it was made by God himself. The love that God had was the force that organized hell and made Dante’s poem come to life.

There are various types of love that Dante goes through and provides in his poems. For instance, Francesca da Rimini was one of the people that Dante felt a lot of pity for. She gave into lust and desire. (see Inf. 5, 127-138) On the other hand, Dante and Beatrice had chaste love, which was virtuous and led him closer to God. He also included Sodomites in his vision of hell, which has to do with people who engage in homosexualiy. There were many sinners who Dante came across that pursued some type of bad love or desire rather than the love of God, which is what mattered to him the most. Myrrha, a figure from Greek mythology, is someone who had an excessive desire for her father. She is an example of many people in hell who have not loved their families or nations enough like the traitors in the ninth circle attest. 

The different perversions of love that Dante provides in the Inferno prove how strong the force of love is. The love he and Beatrice had for each other made him want to continue the frightening journey through hell which in itself is very valuable. When he got to hell, above the entrance, there was an inception that said “the power, and the unsearchably/high wisdom, and the primal love supernal.” This specified that hell was created by God. As Dante proceeded his journey, he felt pity for all the sinners who did not love the right way and who fell for lust and desire because he cherished the love of God. He realized that many of the sinners that were there went after a bad type of love or desire, which contrasted heavily in comparison to the love Dante and Beatrice had for each other.

Christianity vs. Paganism

In Dante’s series of poems, he incorporates paganism views and spins them to fit into his views of Christianity. Paganism is a term initially used in the fourth century by early Christians as a way to depict people in the Roman Empire that practiced ethnic religions other than Judaism or polytheism. In inferno, aside from biblical figures, there are a lot of mythological creatures and greek and roman figures as well. However, he still incorporates them in a way that still follows his Christian beliefs and ideologies.

One instance is when Dante meets Virgil. Virgil was born before christ making him pagan, but that did not matter to Dante. Dante was a very Christian person, therefore he would not have liked him nor gotten along with him. However, Dante makes him out to be a good man and respects him enough to call him an admirable poet. (Cantos 1, lines 79-87) However, in true Dante fashion, he still manages to depict how Virgil being pagan affects him by then letting him say that he was not able to lead him past hell. He still sinned at the end of the day, therefore he is confined to hell. (Cantos 1, lines 121-126)

This carries into visiting the first circle in hell as well. Virgil tells Dante that the souls in the first circle were either born before christ, did not get baptized, or did not practice Christianity. These people did not in fact sin, they just didn’t live by Christian ideologies, and therefore they were sent to the part of hell with the least amount of suffering. They still were not going to make it to heaven though, they were in a “limbo” as Virgil described it. (Cantos 4, lines 31-42)

Dante also incorporates pagan mythological creatures through most cantos into his Christian hell such as Charon (Cantos 3) In this cantos he also encounters souls that seemed to be neutral in the sense that they did not do much evil, nor did they also do much good as well. Dante’s sense of justice is punishment to complete a sin, therefore they followed a blank banner and were stung by hornets and wasps while naked. Meanwhile, worms intake their tears and blood. (Cantos 3, lines 34-32 and  61-69) All in all, Dante incorporated a ton of paganism and Christianity views and/or figures in Inferno, which ultimately were spun for his ideologies.

Durling, Robert M, and Ronald L Martinez. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri.: (Inferno). Vol. 1. Oxford University Press, 1997. Print.

Lucifer’s representation in Dante’s inferno

Layka Coby

In canto 34 Dante reaches the final round of the last circle of Cocytus, which is the ninth and final circle of Hell named “Judecca”. Dante gives vivid descriptions of everything he saw as he walked through, he sees the sinners in this level completely incased in ice, in many strange and twisted positions. The group of sinners contained those who were horrible towards their masters, the were unable to speak. As Dante and Virgil pass the sinners the walk towards Satan it got colder due to the cold wind being created by Satan’s bat like wings flapping, the ice froze environment gets colder as the ice got firmer with the wind. Dante uses Virgil as a windbreaker, Dante then becomes stunned in shock by how hideous Satan is as he tries to give a description of what he sees. Dante describes Satan bound in ice , he has three faces, a yellow one, black one and a red one. In each one of his mouths he would chew on a sinner, Virgil explains to Dante that he is seeing Judas Iscariot, that betrayed Christ is the sinner in the middle who suffers the most as the other two seem to be Brutus and Cassius who betrayed Caesar.

After doing so Dante and Virgil work their way down Satan’s back waiting for the moment he opens his wing so they can have a safe landing. Dante becomes fearful that Virgil will return back through Hell but they both find themselves on the other side of the world standing on their feet. They have passed the mid-point of the Earth, where they are able to see Satan’s legs with his body still froze in the ice above. Dante and Virgil continue to on a long journey to the other side of the world through a opening under the stars.

Dante’s two fold theme of religion and politics are found in the very mouths of Satan. The ultimate sinners of this kind of malice spend eternity being chewed by Satan’s teeth.  he greatest sinner of the world is Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Both Brutus and Cassius betrayed Caesar the founder of Dante’s beloved Roman Empire. The image of Satan is a scary yet interesting one, beginning with its three faces, which symbolize the distortion of the Holy Trinity. Dante says that Satan is as ugly as he was once beautiful, recalling his former incarnation as an angel. Satan, as described by Dante seems less powerful than traditionally depicted; he is dumb and roaring, trapped in the ice, punished as the rest of the sinners, perhaps worse.