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Facts in Dante's Inferno

Facts Examples in Dante's Inferno:

Canto 1

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"O happy those, Whom there he chooses..."   (Canto 1)

Virgil's situation—being stuck in Limbo—is a difficult dilemma. Because he is a good and just man, he does not get sent to hell to be punished; but because he is a pagan and not a Christian, he cannot go to Heaven.  Like all other good and just pagans, as well as infants who die before they are baptized, Virgil must remain eternally in the "holding tank" that is Limbo.

"I do beseech thee (that this ill and worse I may escape) to lead me, where thou saidst, That I Saint Peter's gate may view, and those Who as thou tell'st, are in such dismal plight..."   (Canto 1)

There is scholarly controversy over the meaning of Saint Peter's gate in this line. Many argue that the "gate" is the gate of Heaven, often referenced in the Bible and elsewhere in literature, but not in "Inferno." Therefore, the stronger argument is likely that the gate here is not to Heaven but to Purgatory, a gate that is actually mentioned in Dante's poem. 

"The hour was morning's prime,..."   (Canto 1)

From an astrological perspective, the sun is in Aries. It is the morning of Good Friday, the supposed time of creation, and thus Dante is flooded with a momentary feeling of beneficence.

"O courteous shade of Mantua..."   (Canto 2)

Beatrice refers to Virgil's birthplace, a town called Andes, near Mantua, in the region of Northern Italy the Romans referred to as Cisalpine Gaul.

"Since three maids so blest..."   (Canto 2)

The "three maids so blest" are Mary, the Virgin Mother; Saint Lucia of Syracuse; and Beatrice, Dante's ideal woman.

"THROUGH me you pass into the city of woe..."   (Canto 3)

Dante and Virgil are about to enter the area just before Inferno proper, where those spirits who have lived without praise or blame are kept.  If the Inferno were a house, this would be the foyer or anteroom.

"The place is all thick spread with sepulchres..."   (Canto 9)

"Sepulchres" are tombs or burial-places. In ancient Roman cemeteries, the sepulchers and sarcophagi varied in height.

"the Wain..."   (Canto 11)

The "Wain" is another name for the "Big Dipper," a group of seven stars in the constellation Ursa Major (the big bear). The constellation looks like a ladle (hence "Big Dipper") or, to some, a wagon (hence "Wain").

"The Pisces play..."   (Canto 11)

This is a reference to the constellation Pisces, the fish and twelfth sign of the Zodiac, which now shines low in the sky.

"Cahors..."   (Canto 11)

"Cahors" is a town in southern France, well known in the Middle Ages as a center for Italian money-changers and financiers. Dante links the town to Sodom because its inhabitants, in their greed, ignore what Dante would call "the right path."

"that old rock toppled down..."   (Canto 12)

Virgil has just described Christ's Harrowing of Hell, one of the consequences of which is the dislodging of rocks on the mountain sides.

"Cocytus..."   (Canto 14)

"Cocytus" is a tributary of the Acheron River in Epirus and, in Greek mythology, one of several rivers in the underworld. In Dante's Inferno, Cocytus is found in the lowest region of Hell.

"Along the Brenta..."   (Canto 15)

The Brenta is a river that flows past Padua into the lagoon of Venice, which lies 20 miles southeast of Padua.

"As the Flemings rear Their mound, 'twixt Ghent and Bruges, to chase back The ocean..."   (Canto 15)

Dante is referring to the dykes that hold back the North Sea in the area between the cities of Ghent and Brussels in what is now Belgium.

"Acquacheta..."   (Canto 16)

The Acquacheta is a stream in Northern Italy.

"Apennine..."   (Canto 16)

The "Apennines" are a mountain range in central Italy and serve as the source of most of Italy's rivers.

"mount of Vesulo..."   (Canto 16)

"Vesulo" is most likely a mountain in the territory of Vesulum, which is in modern-day eastern France.

"Benacus then no more They call the name, but Mincius, till at last Reaching Governo into Po he falls..."   (Canto 20)

That is, when the stream begins to flow it is called Mincio, rather than Benaco (the lake that serves as its source water), until it reaches Governo (Governolo), where it joins the Po River.

"Benacus..."   (Canto 20)

"Benacus" is a reference to Benaco, also known as Lake Garda, where Manto is thought to have founded Mantua.

"Carrara's hind..."   (Canto 20)

This refers to the region of Carrara in northern Italy—Tuscany, to be specific. Carrara is known for producing very pure white marble. 

"Thus one perhaps Hath been by force of palsy clean transpos'd..."   (Canto 20)

Dante suggests that palsy (a disease of the nerves) may have forced some prisoners to walk backwards.

"Serchio's wave..."   (Canto 21)

The Serchio is a river near Lucca. It seems to have been a popular spot for summer swimming. 

"Swoln dropsy..."   (Canto 30)

"Swoln dropsy" refers to what we know as edema, swelling of the body and limbs. The food and water one takes in simply causes more swelling.

"Much more than the disease, which makes the flesh Desert these shrivel'd cheeks..."   (Canto 30)

The "disease, which makes the flesh/Desert these shrivel'd cheeks" is most likely a reference to leprosy, a disease that eats away the flesh. Leprosy was very common in Europe in the Middle Ages.

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