The Inferno

Dante Alighieri


Why The Inferno and Sandstone Peak

There might not seem to be a link at all between The Inferno and a mountain in California. But Sandstone Peak was at the beginning of the journey years ago for Tami and TJ and The Inferno is at its bones a journey novel. Standing at the gates of hell with the sign: “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE.” Dante is understandably afraid and asks why he has to go on this journey instead of going straight through to paradise. Virgil explains to him that it’s necessary because the entrance to paradise  requires understanding hell. Tami chose this book because of that idea. Since hiking Sandstone Peak 3.5 years ago, she has been going on her own journey, like Dante, which has certainly felt at times like levels of hell and purgatory. The hope of continuing down this path with 52 Peaks is to move closer each day towards a deeper understanding of self and to move towards Enlightenment. Since Sandstone Peak is where it began, it seemed very appropriate for the peak to be represented by Dante’s journey through suffering towards understanding.

The best rated translated version on Amazon was Signet Classics. But there are many good translations out there.

More About The Inferno

Inferno (Italian for “Hell”) is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. The Inferno tells the journey of Dante through Hell, guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth. As an allegory, the Divine Comedy represents the journey of the soul toward God, with the Inferno describing the recognition and rejection of sin. The saying “the lower levels of hell” originates from this work by Dante.

On the evening of Good Friday, Dante is following Virgil but hesitates; Virgil explains how he has been sent by Beatrice, the symbol of Divine Love. Beatrice has been sent with prayers from the Virgin Mary (symbolic of compassion) and of Saint Lucia (symbolic of illuminating Grace). Rachel, symbolic of the contemplative life, also appears in the heavenly scene recounted by Virgil. The two of them then begin their journey to the underworld (Canto II).

Virgil proceeds to guide Dante through the nine circles of Hell. The circles are concentric, representing a gradual increase in wickedness, and culminating at the centre of the earth, where Satan is held in bondage. The sinners of each circle are punished for eternity in a fashion fitting their crimes: each punishment is acontrapasso, a symbolic instance of poetic justice. For example, later in the poem, Dante and Virgil encounter fortune-tellers who must walk forward with their heads on backward, unable to see what is ahead, because they tried to see the future through forbidden means. Such a contrapasso “functions not merely as a form ofdivine revenge, but rather as the fulfilment of a destiny freely chosen by each soul during his or her life.” People who sinned, but prayed for forgiveness before their deaths are found not in Hell but in Purgatory, where they labour to be free of their sins. Those in Hell are people who tried to justify their sins and are unrepentant. Allegorically, the Inferno represents the Christian soul seeing sin for what it really is.

Dante’s Hell is structurally based on the ideas of Aristotle, but with “certain Christian symbolisms, exceptions, and misconstructions of Aristotle’s text.” Dante’s three major categories of sin, as symbolized by the three beasts that Dante encounters in Canto I, are Incontinence, Violence and Bestiality, and Fraud and Malice. Sinners punished for incontinence – the lustful, the gluttonous, the hoarders and wasters, and the wrathful and sullen – all demonstrated weakness in controlling their appetites, desires, and natural urges; according to Aristotle’s Ethics, incontinence is less condemnable than malice or bestiality, and therefore these sinners are located in four circles of Upper Hell (Circles 2-5). These sinners endure lesser torments than do those consigned to Lower Hell, located within the walls of the City of Dis, for committing acts of violence and fraud – the latter of which involves, as Dorothy L. Sayers writes, “abuse of the specifically human faculty of reason”. The deeper levels are organized into one circle for violence (Circle 7) and two circles for fraud (Circles 8 and 9). As a Christian, Dante adds Circle 1 (Limbo) to Upper Hell and Circle 6 (Heresy) to Lower Hell, making 9 Circles in total; incorporating the Vestibule of the Futile, this leads to Hell containing 10 main divisions. This “9+1=10” structure is also found within the Purgatorio and Paradiso. Lower Hell is further subdivided: Circle 7 (Violence) is divided into three rings, Circle 8 (Simple Fraud) is divided into ten bolgia, and Circle 9 (Complex Fraud) is divided into four regions. Thus, Hell contains, in total, 24 divisions.