Inferno begins with Dante lost in a dark wood, assailed by beasts he cannot evade, and unable to find the straight way to salvation. Conscious that he is ruining himself and that he is falling into a dark place, Dante is at last rescued by Virgil, and the two of them begin their journey to the underworld. Allegorically, the Inferno represents the Christian soul seeing sin for what it really is, and the three beasts represent three types of sin: the self-indulgent, the violent, and the malicious.
The Divine Comedy represents a vision of the afterlife of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church by the 14th century. The narrative describes Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, while allegorically the poem represents the soul’s journey towards God. The poem is widely considered to be the pre-eminent work in Italian literature and one of the greatest works of world literature.
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About the Author
In the Late Middle Ages, most poetry was written in Latin, making it accessible only to the most educated readers. In De vulgari eloquentia (On Eloquence in the Vernacular), however, Dante defended the use of the vernacular in literature. He would even write in the Tuscan dialect for works such as The New Life (1295) and the Divine Comedy; this highly unorthodox choice set a precedent that important later Italian writers such as Petrarch and Boccaccio would follow.
Dante was instrumental in establishing the literature of Italy, and his depictions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven provided inspiration for the larger body of Western art. He is cited as an influence on John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer and Alfred Tennyson, among many others. In addition, the first use of the interlocking three-line rhyme scheme, or the terza rima, is attributed to him. He is described as the "father" of the Italian language, and in Italy, he is often referred to as il Sommo Poeta ("the Supreme Poet"). Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio are also called the tre corone ("three crowns") of Italian literature.