Notes on Characters from The Inferno

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The Inferno Major Characters

Dante Alighieri: The protagonist of the Divine Comedy and its author. Dante, the character, has lost his way in life and is rescued by the poet Virgil who leads him on a journey to enlightenment. This journey leads through Hell, where Dante witnesses souls being punished for all types of sins. At first he responds with fear and pity, later with loathing and mercilessness.

Virgil: The spirit of the great Latin poet and Dante’s guide and protector in the Inferno. Virgil is a prisoner of Hell himself because he was born before Christianity existed. He commands many of the creatures in Hell with his strong powers of reason, however he is not able to dominate all of them and is at times fearful himself. He encourages Dante to learn from what he sees and reprimands Dante when he sympathizes with the sinners.

God: The designer of Hell and central force that governs it. He is supreme power, wisdom, and love. During his journey, Dante comes to realize that neither human pity nor reason can challenge God’s justice and that the basic definition of evil is all that is contrary to God’s will.

Satan: Also known as Lucifer or Dis, he is embedded in a frozen marsh at the center of the earth, which is the bottom of the pit of Hell. He is punished for rebelling against God in an attempt to try to become his equal. He has three sets of wings and three faces and in each of his mouths he chews an archetypal traitor: Judas, the betrayer of Christ; and Brutus and Cassius, the betrayers of Julius Caesar. The recurrence of the number three in Satan’s appearance in Hell is a reference to his desire to be more beautiful than God, the Trinity.

Beatrice: One the blessed souls in Heaven, who sends Virgil to guide Dante through Hell. Virgil tells Dante that when he reaches Paradise Beatrice will reveal to him all of his future. In real life, Beatrice was a woman Dante loved passionately throughout his life despite the fact that she married another man and died at a young age. She has a rather small role in the Inferno, but a symbolically prominent one in the Comedy as a whole as she is one of the goals towards which Dante progresses.

Minor Characters

Charon: A figure from Greek mythology. He is an old bearded man with fiery eyes who ferries souls entering Hell across the river Acheron. He attempts to refuse them passage, but Virgil reminds him that in Hell what God wills is done.

Minos: The mythological king of Crete is a monstrous judge who sits at the entrance to the second circle of Hell. Sinners confess all to him and after winding his tail around them the number of circles they must descend he throws them down.

Paolo and Francesca of Rimini: Two lovers punished in the second circle for an adulterous love affair inspired by the story of Lancelot and Guinevere.

Cerberus: A mythological three-headed dog placed by Dante as the guard of the gluttonous in the Inferno. He has a black greasy beard and a large belly and claws at his wards viciously. To silence the dog, Virgil throws clods of earth into each of his throats.

Ciacco: A former gluttonous citizen of Florence punished in the third circle. He condemns the people of Florence for their pride, envy, and avarice and he predicts that one of the two warring political factions of Florence will conquer the other.

Plutus: The mythological god of riches guards the fourth circle, which holds the prodigal and the greedy.

Phlegyas: The surly boatman, who takes Virgil and Dante across the river Styx to the gates of the City of Dis, whose walls surround the sixth circle, thereby enclosing all the circles beneath.

Filippo Argenti: An arrogant and cruel former citizen of Florence. Also a Black Guelph and therefore a political enemy of Dante. He surfaces, covered in mud, near the boat carrying Dante and Virgil across the fifth circle and Dante reviles him.

Farinata: The father-in-law of Dante’s best friend and a leader of the Ghibelline party. He is punished in the sixth circle for heresy, but continues to obsess over the politics of Florence. He prophesies Dante’s exile and explains that souls can foretell the future and see the past but have no knowledge of the present.

Minotaur: A mythological monster, half man half bull, the bastard son of the queen of Crete, who devoured 14 youths each year. He guards the entrance to the seventh circle, which holds all those who committed sins of violence. When Virgil rebukes the monster, he bucks furiously and bites himself.

Chiron: The leader of the centaurs, half men half horses, who guard those who committed violence against their fellowman. Chiron was a wise teacher in Greek mythology.

Pier delle Vigne: Former advisor to Emperor Frederick II, he committed suicide when the envious gossip of others caused the emperor to distrust him. He suffers in the form of a tree in the second round of the seventh circle.

Capaneus: A king famous for his defiance of the gods. While holding siege to the city of Thebes, Jupiter threw a thunderbolt at Capaneus who did not fall, but died standing up. He lies contorted on a burning plain in the third round of the seventh circle of Hell still blaspheming vigorously.

Brunetto Latini: One of Dante’s contemporaries, a leader of the Guelf party and a poet of some fame. He was both a political and artistic role model for Dante, yet in the Inferno he is punished for sodomy in the third round of the seventh ring.

Geryon: The mythological King of Spain, who Hercules killed in order to take his oxen. In medieval times, he was believed to lure strangers and then kill them, which is why Dante made him the guardian of the fraudulent in the third round of the seventh circle. He has the face of an innocent man and an intricately marked body of a reptile. Dante and Virgil ride on his back from the seventh to the eighth circle of Hell.

Pope Nicolas III: A corrupt pope who reigned from 1277 to 1280. He has the highest position in the third ring of the eighth circle, imprisoned upside down feet flaming above all the corrupt popes before him. He mistakes Dante for Pope Boniface VIII who will replace him.

Malacoda: The leader of the hook wielding demons, Malabranche, who reign over the fifth chasm of the eighth circle. He sends a troupe of demons to escort Virgil and Dante, but intentionally gives them incorrect directions.

Vanni Fucci: A member of the Black Guelf party from the city of Pistoia, who robbed a church and allowed others to be punished for it. He is punished in the in the seventh chasm of the eighth circle. Dante sees him bit by a snake, transformed into dust, and then reformed into his human shape. Vanni tells Dante that the Blacks will conquer the Whites in Florence in the near future, clarifying the prediction of Ciacco. He concludes his speech by flagrantly insulting God.

Ulysses: Mythical adventurer and soldier in the Trojan war. Dante meets Ulysses in the eighth chasm of the eighth circle, where he is punished for stealing a statue from the Trojans and convincing the warrior Achilles to leave his lover who thereafter died of grief. Ulysses recounts the story of his last voyage, which is an invention of Dante the writer. He sailed out of the Mediterranean, beyond the edge of the known world, and his ship capsized as it approached a mountain on an island. This mountain represents the mountain of Purgatory, which Dante will later climb with Virgil.

Count Guido da Monfeltro: A famous Ghibelline warrior and politician, who later became a Franciscan monk and advisor to Pope Boniface VIII. He advised the Pope to offer an enemy amnesty and then attack them when their guard was down. Guido agreed to give the evil advice securing the Pope’s absolution beforehand. This did not save him from God’s condemnation, as repentance is required for forgiveness.

Mosca de’ Lamberti: The man whose advise led to the long-lasting Guelf-Ghibelline feud. Buondelmonte was betrothed to a girl of the Amidei family, but decided to break off the engagement. The men of the Amidei family decided to kill him based upon Mosca de’ Lamberti’s advise. This act precipitated a war between the families that escalated over time into all-encompassing civil discord in Tuscany.

Nimrod: A Biblical character, who led the building of a great tower that would reach the heavens, the tower of Babel. God considered this an affront upon his status and a type of betrayal. So, in the midst of the construction he confused the languages of all those involved thus halting construction. Nimrod is buried in the walls of the lowest circle of Hell, but has not lost his capacity to babble.

Antæus: A mythological giant, who did not fight against the gods. He was renowned for his deeds of strength, but Hercules killed him by lifting him from the ground from which he drew his power. In Dante’s Inferno, he is imbedded in the wall of the ninth circle, but is otherwise unfettered. He picks up the poets and places them in the bottom of the circle.

Bocca: A Ghibelline by blood who when fighting in a key battle for the Guelfs betrayed them. Dante stumbles upon his head, which protrudes from the frozen surface of the Cocytus, and he berates him. When the soul refuses to reveal his identity to Dante, Dante grabs his scalp and demands to know. Another treacherous soul nearby identifies him and Dante lets him go with disgust.

Count Ugolino: A traitor punished in the second ring of the ninth circle of Hell. He gnaws on the head of Archbishop Ruggieri, both frozen neck deep in ice. Ugolino betrayed the Guelf party of Pisa by conspiring with Ruggieri, the leader of the Ghibelline party, to get rid of one of his Guelf competitors; however, having thus weakened the Guelf party, Ruggieri imprisoned Ugolino as well as four of his sons and grandsons. Ugolino describes how he watched his sons starve to death in the prison before going crazy and dying himself of starvation.

Friar Alberigo: A traitor to hospitality, Alberigo killed his brother and his brother’s son during a dinner at his house. Dante is surprised to see him in Hell because he believes him to be alive. Alberigo explains that souls can be taken to this circle of Hell before they die, and that a demon takes over their body for the remainder of their life. Dante promises to remove the ice from his eyes after he tells his story, but in the end refuses to do so for such a sinner.

Judas, Brutus, and Cassius: The three archetypal traitors chewed by the monster Satan in the lowest circle of the Inferno. Judas was Jesus’ disciple who betrayed him to the Pharisees for money, leading to his crucifixion. Brutus and Cassius betrayed Julius Cæsar, the greatest leader of the Roman Empire, which also led to his death.

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