Dante Alighieri wrote “The Inferno” as a warning to his peers to turn from their sinful ways; anguish is all that is in store for those who are corrupt. This ground-breaking work painted a vivid picture of hell as an evil, inexplicably torturous place. Dante travels through the nine circles of the underworld with Virgil, a fellow poet, as his guide. “Therefore, for your own good, I think it well you follow me and I will be your guide and lead you forth through an eternal place. There you shall see the ancient spirits tried in endless pain and hear their lamentation…” (Alighieri, 31). Through their journey, Dante notices that as they travel deeper, the torment increases proportionally to the sins. Finally, as Dante and Virgil reach the most bitter, tormented place in the universe, the ninth circle of hell, they immediately depart after seeing Satan and the final circle of the underworld. ( Singleton, 134-40).
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The literature that Dante wrote was quite dark and unforgiving through nine layers of pain and suffering. The torture starts at the first layer with those who were neither for nor against God. They are damned to spend eternity in a whirlwind being stung by hornets. As Dante passes through this layer, he faints because of the agony of their plight. Continuing downward, the second layer contains those who are guilty of lust. Each couple is to spend eternity to be in a whirlwind, but can never touch. “And this I learned was a never-ending flight of those who sinned in the flesh, the carnal and lusty who betrayed reason to their appetite.” (Alighieri, 59) As Dante continues to the depths of hell, his spirit turns from compassionate to merciless.
Through the next layers of torment, the punishment continually worsens, as do the sins of those who are tortured. Finally, after seeing many people that have wronged Alighieri, including the Pope that had a hand in exiling him, Virgil takes him to the ninth and final circle of hell where the most evil sinners in history inhabit. Finally, Virgil leads Dante to Satan, who is portrayed as a three-headed monster, immersed in a lake of ice whose flapping wings keep the temperature freezing. Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus Christ, is in the center mouth while Brutus and Cassius, betrayers of Caesar Augustus are in the other two mouths being torn to pieces, but never dying. “I had drawn close enough to one [head] already to make out the great arms along his sides, the face, the shoulders, the breast, and most of the belly.” (Alighieri, 259). This shows the true evil of the Prince of Darkness. Satan is shown as a monster instead of a demonic figure; this is only the start of the symbolism of Dante’s inferno. (Anderson, 89-91).
While hell is usually portrayed as a fiery pit, Dante illustrates the worst part of hell as a lake of ice. This conceptually shows that a fate worse than fire and brimstone is necessary for those who commit the ultimate sin: the betrayal of a benefactor. Satan portrayed the essence of evil and the administrator of punishment. Another recurring symbol is that of the punishments of each layer of hell. The true symbolism in The Inferno rests in the punishments of those who sin. Opportunists must “chase a banner of opportunity that can never be caught.” (Alighieri, 83). Because of their earthly sins, residents of hell must duplicate their original sin, only inversely and eternally.
Dante’s “The Inferno” is, in essence, a portrayal of one man’s views on the afterlife put into a poem. Because of a clear sense, the moral standards of society were nowhere near God’s standards; Dante took it upon himself to paint a vivid picture of the consequences of a sinful life. I feel that while Dante does not portray hell biblically, he does so symbolically; using memorable analogies to convey his universal theme: anguish is all that is in store for those who do not repent. (Robert, 99).
In Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy there are three sections; Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The first section is called Hell. He meets a guy named Virgil in a forest who promises to show him the punishments of Hell, and Purgatory. He follows Virgil a ways and finally comes to the gates of Hell. They come to the river Acheron where they are taken to the opposite side of the shore by Charon, the ferryman. There are nine main levels of Hell. The first level is Limbo. They find souls that have lived good lives and do not need to suffer for sins. These people would be in Paradise if they were baptized. (Irene, 33).
At the entrance of the second level, they see Minos the Infernal Judge. His job is to beware of people entering the other regions of Hell. In the second level, they find the souls of carnal sinners who are punished by being tossed around in the dark air by very furious winds. In the third level, the gluttonous are punished. “Their torment is, to lie in the mire, under a continual and heavy storm of hail, snow, and discolored water; Cerberus (dog of Satan) meanwhile barking over them with his threefold throat, and rending them piecemeal.” (Alighieri pg. 21). In the fourth level of Hell, they see Plutus. Here the prodigal and the avaricious are punished by rolling great weights against each other.
In the fifth level of Hell, the wrathful and gloomy are tormented in the Stygian lake. The sixth level is the city Dis where the heretics are punished. They are in tombs burning with intense fire. The seventh level is enclosed by a rocky precipice. This level is guarded by the Minotaur. There are three parts of level seven. The first part is where the violence against their neighbor is punished. They are put to violent death over and over by others in this part. In the second part people who took their own life, light, and violently consumed their goods. At this level, three types of crimes are punished. They are against God, nature, and art. They are punished by having “flakes of fire, which are eternally showering down upon them.” (Alighieri pg. 55).
In the eighth level, there are ten parts of this level. The second part is of flatterers who remain in filth. In the third part is the ones who are guilty of simony. Their heads are downward, and their feet are burned. In the fourth part, they are forced to have their face on the back of their heads and walk backward. In the fifth part are the barterers or public peculators. They are plunged into boiling pitch and are guarded by Demons. In the sixth part, the hypocrites are to pace continually around and around. In the seventh, the robbers are punished by venomous snakes. The eighth has the evil counselors, and the ninth has the sowers of scandal and schismatics. The tenth part has alchemists and forgers.
There are four parts of the ninth and final levels. In the fourth and last part of Hell are those who have betrayed their benefactors and Satan himself. This level is covered with ice. “The emperor, who sways The realm of sorrow, at the mid breast from the ice…As he is hideous now, and yet did dare To scowl upon his Maker, well from him may all our misery flow…His three faces: one in front of hue vermillion, the other two with this midway each shoulder joined…Under each shot two mighty wings, as enormous as became a bird so vast…He flapped in the air that from him issued still three winds…At six eyes he wept: the tears down three chins distilled with bloody foam. At every mouth his teeth a sinner champed.” (Alighieri pg. 139).
On the other hand, now we evaluate the difference that is found between the Satan of Dante and Milton. Paradise Lost which has been written by John Milton is the longest poem of his. In this poem, Milton tells us a classical Adam and Eve story in a different way. Milton sees himself as a prophet while he is writing this poem. His aim is, to show and vindicate God’s aims to people. He wants to see the past and get a divine thought. While Milton was writing this poem he made a very good presentation of Satan and Fallen Angles. He represents Satan so extreme that, many critics thought that Milton defends Satan. He talks about the Devil as a proud and right existence. (Maryann, 87-88). Now I will briefly talk about this representation of Satan and Fallen Angles.
When we look at the poem in book 1 lines (50-51-52-53) we can see he talks about sending Satan to Hell. “Nine times the space that measures day and night To mortal men, he with his horrid crew lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf confounded though immortal.”
In this paragraph, Milton tells the first fall to Hell of Satan. He says Satan and Fallen Angles Lays in the Hell nine days and nine nights as an effect of fall. Their minds confuse but they didn’t lose their immortality and their hate is still continuing, although they are in Hell. In this paragraph we can see sending to Hell all the Fallen Angles are shown us as a punishment, so it is expected to Fallen Angles and Satan to be sorry, but they never lose their hate. (Leslie, 55-67).
All the fallen Angles lost their name after they had fallen to Hell. If we look at lines (84-85-86-87) we can see here Satan’s first talk and he is thinking about things that he lost after he had been driven away.
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“If thou beest he – but O how fallen! How changed from him who in the happy realms of light clothed with transcendent brightness didst outshine myriads, though bright!”
Satan also talks about his rebellion against God and he talks about himself as right and proud. Satan says I won’t change against to power of God. According to Saran, he is right but God isn’t because God used force on him. When we look at Milton’s representing of Satan we can clearly see that he is talking about Satan as proud, right and honorable. “That durst dislike his reign, and me preferring, his utmost power with adverse power opposed in dubious battle on the plains of Heaven and shook his throne. What though the field is lost? All is not lost:”
In this paragraph, there is an image of Heaven’s Garden and in this garden, God and Satan are fighting. In book 1 lines, (102-103-104-105-106). Satan says, we have not lost this war yet and we will continue to fight against him, and also he says I will not beg to him for forgiveness. Again we see Satan is very proud and this time conceited.
“Is this the region, this the soil, the clime, said than the lost archangel, this the seat that we must change for Heaven? This mournful gloom for that celestial light?”
Book 1 lines (242-243-244-245). In here Satan asks, is this place that we will stay instead of Heaven? Then he answers however it would be worse I will appropriate here. There is also a representation of God on this page. Milton represents God, someone who proud of things that he has done. Milton talking about him as a negative character.
“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
In this paragraph Satan says, it is better to be a ruler in Hell than to be a server in Heaven. One more time Satan is represented as an innocent.
When we take a look at book 2 we see Fallen Angels here. They are saying their ideas to Satan and arguing. If we look book 2 lines (115-116-117-118-119-120-121-122-123-124). We see there is a Fallen Angle’s talk.
“For his thoughts were low, to vice industrious, but to nobler deeds timorous and slothful: yet he pleased the ear, and with persuasive accent thus began: I should be much for open war, o peers, as not behind in hate if what was urged main reason to persuade immediate war did not dissuade me most, and seem to cost ominous conjecture on the whole success”. (Broadbent, 124-30).
In this paragraph, Belial says to Satan don’t fight. Belial says let’s enjoy fully to Hell, we cannot have any revenge. Belial also says I prefer living with pain to being destroyed. On lines (168-169) book 2 Belial says: “Or when we lay chained on the burning lake?”
Belial tries to say that; God can make us bad things so we shouldn’t fight. As we can understand from that lines Fallen angles are against to thought of war, they are afraid of God. Fallen angles suggest Satan doing nothing so maybe they get used to Hell. Fallen Angles are not represented as cruel as Satan.
If we look at lines (229 and 239) we can see another Fallen Angel’s thought.
“Either to disenthrone the King of Heaven we war, if war be best, or to regain our own right lost: him to unthrone we then may hope, when everlasting Fate shall yield to fickle chance, and chaos judge the strife. (Hanford, 45-50) The former, vain to hope, argues as vain the letter: for what place can be for us within Heaven’s bound, unless Heaven’s Lord supreme we overpower? Suppose he should relent and publish grace to all, on promise made of new subjection”.
In this paragraph, Mammon talks and he says we shouldn’t against God, and he can build an emperor here he also says, by hard work we can make Hell a beautiful place for us. So we see he is against the thought of warlike other Fallen Angles.
Satan doesn’t like these ideas because he wants to do something against God.
“Thrones and imperial powers, offspring of Heaven, ethereal virtues; or these titles now must we renounce, and, changing style, be called princes of Hell? For so the popular vote inclines, here to continue, and build up here a growing empire-doubtless! While we dream, and know not that the King of Heaven hath doomed this place our dungeon, not our safe retreat beyond his potent arm”.
In this paragraph Atlantean talks book 2 lines (309-310-311-312-313-314-315-316-317-318). He warns Satan and says be careful do you think you will build an empire here? Here is a prison for us, not a safe place. We are slaves here. As we can see here Fallen Angles accepts their fate all of them are agree they don’t want to fight but Satan doesn’t give up his thought and aim.
When we take a look at lines (341-342-343-344) book 2. We see here Satan’s plan to take revenge on God.
“Nor will occasion want, nor shall we need with dangerous expedition to invade Heaven, whose high walls fear no assault or siege, or ambush from the deep”.
Satan says here, we don’t need to fight against God directly we can make it easier. In this paragraph, we can see Satan is represented as being very clever.
In conclusion, we can say that Satan is represented as a good character that had many qualities. Fallen Angles have not as much function as much as Satan has. We see Satan is like a King (King of the Hell) but the Fallen Angles are represented as a soldier of Satan they have their own ideas and they can say their opinion but none of them are accepted by Satan, so Fallen Angles seen us as an extra. (Potter, ix-xii) If we look at critics who criticize Milton’s Paradise Lost, we can see that these critics thought that Milton defended and try to prove to be right the Satan unconsciously. If we compare Milton’s presentation of Satan with Dante’s Satan we can say that Dante’s Satan is much more cruel and bad but Milton is not as cruel as Dante, so in my opinion, Milton’s Satan and Fallen Angles are successful but not as realist as Dante’s Satan.
Anderson, William. Dante the Maker. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980. 89-94.
Broadbent, J. ed., John Milton: Introductions (1973); 124-30.
Durling, Robert M., trans. Dante’s Inferno. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Hanford J. H. and V. G. Taffe, A Milton Handbook (1970) 45-50.
Irene Samuel, Dante and Milton: The “Commedia” and “Paradise Lost” ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1966), p. 33.
Leslie Brisman, Milton’ Poetry of Choice and Its Romantic Heirs Poetry of Choice and Its Romantic Heirs ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973), pp. 55-67.
Maryann Cale McGuire, Milton’s Puritan Mask ( Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983), pp. 87-88.
Potter, L. A Preface to Milton (1972).
Robert S. Hailer, Literary Criticism of Dante Alighieri ( Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1973), p. 99.
Singleton, Charles S., trans. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Purgatorio. Text. Bollingen Series 80. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. 134-40).