Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the Inferno

Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the Inferno

Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the Inferno

Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the Inferno


One of the greatest works of world literature, Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy has, despite its enormous popularity and importance, often stymied readers with its multitudinous characters, references, and themes. But until now, students of the Inferno have lacked a suitable resource to guide their reading.

Welcome to Danteworlds, the first substantial guide to the Inferno in English. Guy P. Raffa takes readers on a geographic journey through Dante's underworld circle by circle- from the Dark Wood down to the ninth circle of Hell- in much the same way Dante and Virgil proceed in their infernal descent. Each chapter- or "region"- of the book begins with a summary of the action, followed by detailed entries, significant verses, and useful study questions. The entries, based on a close examination of the poet's biblical, classical, and medieval sources, help locate the characters and creatures Dante encounters and assist in decoding the poem's vast array of references to religion, philosophy, history, politics, and other works of literature.

Written by an established Dante scholar and tested in the fire of extensive classroom experience, Danteworlds will be heralded by readers at all levels of expertise, from students and general readers to teachers and scholars.


It is early Spring in the year 1300 and Dante, “midway along the road of our life,” has strayed off the straight path and finds himself in a dark wood. Heartened by the sight of a sunlit hill, he begins to climb to safety, but soon he is beset by a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf and forced to retreat to the valley. Here Dante meets the shade of Virgil, the great Roman poet; to escape his dire predicament, Dante must visit the three realms of the afterlife, beginning with Hell, eternal abode of lost souls. Dante hesitates, declaring his unworthiness to undertake such a journey, but is persuaded to go when he learns that Virgil has been sent by Beatrice to rescue him.


THREE BEASTS :: The uncertain symbolism of the three beasts—a leopard (or some other lithe, spotted animal), a lion, and a shewolf—contributes to the shadowy atmosphere of the opening scene. Armed with information from later episodes, commentators often view the creatures as symbols, respectively, of the three major divisions of Dante's Hell: concupiscence (immoderate desires), violence, and fraud (though some equate the leopard with fraud and the she-wolf with concupiscence). Others associate the animals with envy, pride, and avarice. Perhaps they carry some political meaning as well (a she-wolf nursed the legendary founders of Rome—Romulus and Remus—and thus came to stand as a symbol of the city). Whatever his conception, Dante likely drew inspiration for the beasts from this biblical passage prophesying the destruction of those who refuse to repent their iniquities: “Wherefore a lion out of the wood hath slain them, a wolf in the evening hath spoiled them, a leopard watcheth for their cities: every one that shall go out thence shall be taken, because their transgressions are multiplied, their rebellions are strengthened” (Jeremiah 5:6).

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