In the following article we are going to sum up the journey of the Florentine Poet through the circles of Hell and Purgatory until the arrival in Heaven, that is described in the Divine Comedy (or just Comedy if we want to use the original name that Dante wanted for his work).
The Divine Comedy Explained in 10 minutes
The first Canto is an introduction and has a 35 years old Dante as protagonist, who is lost in a forest:
The dark forest: it represents Dante’s spiritual bewilderment in sin which is depicted as three beasts, that get in his way: a leopard that represents lust, a lion that represents pride, and a she-wolf which represents greed. However , Virgilio’s soul, author of Eneide, very admired by Dante, saves the Florentine poet, warning him that he’ll have to follow him in a journey through Hell and Purgatory, and then continue toward Heaven, escorted by another person, in order to save himself from his poor moral and intellectual condition.
Vestibule: After they crossed the doors of hell, Dante and Virgilio meet the Ignavi, those who in their life, never took a definite position nor took a stand. There were even angels than sided neither with God nor Lucifer when the latter rebelled. Their punishment, according to the law of retaliation, is the eternal chasing, while naked, of a white banner without chance of reaching it, with wasps and flies stinging them.
Acheronte River: Dante e Virgilio reach the sides of the Acheronte river where the souls curse their ancestors and God, waiting for being taken by Caronte, ferryman of souls, to the place where they’ll be punished. Caronte warns Dante he can’t cross that river since he is still alive, however Virgilio says that his journey is God’s will, represented by earthquakes and a crimson lightning that will cause Dante to pass out.
I circle Limbo: Dante wakes up on the other side of the river with Virgilio that’s worried to enter Hell, more precisely in the Limbo, the place where he suffers. In fact, in the Limbo, there are all the souls of those who weren’t baptized, like the rightful people who were born before Jesus Christ or that never knew His message and the stillborn children, who suffer since they’ll never be able to meet God. Moving forward, out of the suffering, Dante and Virgilio will be welcomed by the privileged Ancient Poets: Omero, Orazio, Ovidio and Lucano.
II circle: Dante and Virgilio meet the judge Minosse, who has the power to make the souls before him confess their sins, and then sentence them. The judge invites Dante to renounce to his quest since getting into Hell is easy but getting out is difficult. However warns him to not get in the way because they’re there by God’s will. The first damned that dante meet are the luxurious, those who let themselves to be overwhelmed by amorous passions and who are sentenced to be victim of a never-ending storm and among those there are Paolo and Francesca who, in life, were caught kissing by Gianciotto, brother of Paolo and husband of Francesca, who murdered them.
III circle: In this circle there are gluttonous, those who were, in life, greedy of food and drinks and now they are lying on a quagmire, exposed to rain, snow and hail while Cerberus, a huge three-headed dog tears them apart and drives them crazy with its barking. Dante interrogates the soul of Ciacco about the fate of Florence, because of the Guelph and Ghibelline conflict and about the existence of rightful people who are ignored.
IV circle: In this circle there are those who, in life, were both greedy, attached to their earthly goods, and prodigals, those who squandered their goods, uncontrolled. Their punishment consists in pushing, in circle, huge boulders in the opposite direction, clashing and and insulting each other. Dante uses this circle to criticize the corruption in the ecclesiastical world.
V circle: In this circle we find the wrathful and slothful, who are immersed in the Stygian swamp, with the former on the surface, beating each other violently and the latter on the bottom, whose repressed rage makes it boil. In the crossing, Dante is affected by that place, showing a desire of vengeance toward some souls who argue with.
VI circle: After they crossed the swamp, Dante and Virgilio arrive at the city of Dite, inhabited by demons and they’re able to go through it only with the help of an angel. Later they’ll find the graveyard of the Heretics and Epicureans, like the noble ghibelline Farinata degli Uberti, who drifted away from Christian faith, by not believing in the afterlife.
VII cerchio: This circle is divided into 3 rounds, where the souls of violent people are punished, more precisely: those who were violent toward others (murderers, tyrants, raiders), who are immersed n the boiling blood river Flegetonte, while being stricken by arrows fired by centaurs, those who where violent toward themselves (suicidal and squanderers), who are turn into trees, the former, while the latter are chased by black dogs, and those who were violent toward God (blasphemers, sodomites and usurers), who are stricken by a rain of fire.
VIII circle: This circle is formed by 10 bolgias where many souls suffer the most disparate punishments like: ruffians, who are chased by demons, simonists (those who sold the things of God), who are stuck upside down in pits, while their feet are scorched, hypocrites, fraud advisers, like Ulysses and Diomedes, who are imprisoned in tongues of fire, ecc.
IX circle: this last circle is covered in ice, since Lucifer resides in it, and by flapping his wings while weeping he generates a whirlwind strong enough to freeze the Cocito lake. The circle is divided into four areas, where the souls of traitors/betrayers are punished:
Caina: the place where the murderers of their kin are stuck in the ice, with the face pointing down.
Antenora: the place where the traitors to their countries are stuck in the ice with the face pointing up.
Tolomea: the place where the betrayers of their guests are punished with frozen tears to not let them off steam.
Giudecca: the place where the betrayers of benefactors are completely stuck in the ice.
In the deepest part, punished by Lucifer himself, we can find the souls of Judas, who betrayed Jesus, and Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed Cesar and they’re perpetually mangled. Besides, the body of the fallen angel represents the only way out from the Inferno, in fact Dante and Virgilio will climb up it in order to see the sky and the stars and the mountain of Purgatory.
Purgatory is a huge mountain that was formed after Lucifer’s fall, on the top of which there’s Eden where the souls of the Blessed ones reside. It is has a 7 rounds structure in which the souls that are not ready to ascend to Heaven yet, are purified from their sin related to the 7 capital vices, always according to the law of retaliation. Once the sentence is served, the soul is immersed in two rivers: the Letè that eliminates the memory of the sin and the Eunoè that restores the memory of the good deeds done. At that point the soul can access to Eden.
Heaven is an ethereal world formed by 9 Cieli, that are all contained in the Empireo, where Virgilio (who represents the reason) can’t enter, therefore Dante is escorted by Beatrice (Faith), whose smile will become brighter and brighter as they get close to the Holy Trinity. However Dante writes that it’s not possible to put into what he sees when he comes into sight of God, since what he sees goes beyond human imagination, but he realizes that love is the mechanism that moves the world and life and it’s collocated in the prefect divine circular motion.
Alright that’s our sum up of the Divine Comedy: we hope you enjoyed it. In addition, we remind you to take a look at our video on the Italian expression IN BOCCA AL LUPO (What does it mean? How should you reply?).