Literature / The Divine Comedy

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Going to hell, back, and beyond.

"It's not just Dante's story, it's everybody's story."
Bishop Robert Barron

The Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia) is a three-part epic by Florentine poet Durante degli Alighieri (Dante), written some time between 1308 and 1321. It describes one man's journey into the depths of Hell, up the staircase-like mountain of Purgatory, and into the spheres of Heaven while guided by the poet Virgil and Dante's deceased lover, Beatrice. On his journey, Dante meets the most notable local politicians, historical figures, and biblical characters all across the afterlife in order to better understand the spiritual journey we take in life.

It isn't a comedy by modern definition, as it's not very funny. It's called the Comedy because it's written in a vernacular style and has a happy ending, which is the original meaning of the word as opposed to a tragedy (which was considered a bit more high-brow). The adjective "Divine" does not refer to the work's religious setting, but was added later by people—specifically Giovanni Boccaccionote —who thought the poem was awesome. So high was the reputation of the Divine Comedy that it made the Tuscan dialect in which Dante wrote the basis for Standard Italian, and is still considered the gold standard of Italian literary writing.

Gustave Doré famously illustrated the story in the 19th century.

The first part, the Inferno, is the best known and most often retold and alluded to in modern media, with adaptations including Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, a rather faithful manga Dante Shinkyoku by Go Nagai and the video game Dante's Inferno, which takes a few liberties.. Essentially, every portrayal of Hell comes either from Dante, its English Protestant Spiritual Successor Paradise Lost, or a combination of the two.

It should probably be pointed out that the Divine Comedy is not Catholic doctrine; not everything that it says to be true is canon. That's why the Word of Dante trope has that title.

Not to be confused with the band The Divine Comedy, a rather fine Northern Irish band responsible for, among other things, the Father Ted theme tune.


This poem provides examples of the following:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Despite being a traitor while he was alive, Ugolino is rendered as a tragic figure and the story of his and his sons' death is easily the saddest part of the whole work.
  • Alien Geometries: While Hell and Purgatory have clearly defined geography, that of Paradise is more complicated. The spheres of Heaven correspond to the celestial spheres of a geocentric universe, but can equally well be seen as orbiting around God in the Empyrean, or as all existing in the same space. To enter Paradise or cross between the spheres, one must Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, rather than doing any physical climbing. The structure of Heaven has been interpreted as an early description of the fourth-dimensional hypersphere.
  • All Just a Dream: Well, obviously. Unless it wasn't. Or perhaps it was. Dante scholars still argue about whether we are supposed to consider the whole thing one big, complicated dream; or if Dante wanted us to "believe" that he actually went to Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven and then came back (suspending our disbelief, of course—we're obviously not supposed to believe that he actually did those things, just to approach the text like he physically went rather than went there in a dream); or if he intended us to interpret the whole thing as a prophetic dream (i.e. a dream, but one that is in some way true or a representation of the truth, like a lot of dreams in The Bible—and indeed, there are a number of dreams like this in-story, particularly in the Purgatorio); or any number of variations on this.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • In the Inferno, suicides are turned into trees. They can scream, but only when someone (or something, as Dante sees later) breaks off a branch.
    • Also in the Inferno, the souls of traitors are frozen in the icy lake of Cocytus, at depths corresponding to the depth of their betrayal. Those at the very bottom are completely encased and in grotesque positions.
    • In the Purgatorio, the penance for the sin of Pride is to carry boulders, the weight of which is proportional to the sin's weight. Dante, via the Pilgrim, remarks that this punishment is the simplest, and yet quite terrible, and also admit that the Pride circle is where he expects to spend the largest part of his own penance.
  • And That's Terrible: Dante really hated corrupt priests.
  • The Annotated Edition: Most good editions of The Divine Comedy are heavily annotated: at the remove of 700 years or so, and given that Dante went on Author Tracts and Author Filibusters in long stretches of the work about now-forgotten Florentine politicians or abstruse theological issues, it's often very difficult to tell who's who or what Dante is on about now without extensive footnotes. Mind, not all of this is the passage of time; several writers in Dante's time or shortly thereafter, including Boccaccio, wrote annotations of the Comedy, all or most of which occasionally pled ignorance as to Dante's meaning.
  • Arch-Enemy: In Real Life, and therefore In-Universe as well, Pope Boniface VIII was this to Dante, as he was directly responsible for Dante's exile from Florence. In the poem, Dante outright states he'll end up in Hell, and everytime he's brought up in any conversation, none of the souls have anything nice to say about him.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The last and deepest pit of Hell is guarded by a series of Giants embedded in the cliff. One of them provides a passage to the lake of ice.
  • Author Avatar: The Pilgrim, protagonist of the story. Purgatory has seven levels corresponding to the Seven Deadly Sins. The Pilgrim experiences the penances for only three: Pride, Anger, and Lust. Translator Dorothy L. Sayers commented that these were the three faults people tend to accuse Dante of, so subjecting the Pilgrim to their penances was probably a deliberate confession on the poet's part.
  • Author Filibuster:
    • At the very entrance of Hell, there is a special place of punishment for people who never took a stand for anything during their lives, and were neither good enough to deserve Heaven (or Purgatory), nor bad enough to end up in the rest of Hell. This also includes the angels who didn't take a side during Satan's rebellion against God. These particular sinners are regarded as the Butt Monkeys of the afterlife. Dante was very passionate about politics, and had a deep contempt for people who just wanted to mind their own business and were ready to change their allegiance whenever it was more convenient.
    • He reserved the deepest layer for his personal betrayers who were convenient about alliances.
    • Let's not forget Purgatorio 6th canto in which the poet, simply for Vergil greeting a fellow poet, stops the narration and goes in a lengthy tirade against the current political situation in Italy, the apparent lack of interest of the Emperor in Italian affairs and even Florence political scene (he even admits he is digressing a little bit)
  • Badass Bookworm: Dante in Real Life; he was a poet, but he also fought as a knight ("Feditore a cavallo", a particularly dangerous task) for the faction of the Guelphs.
  • Baleful Polymorph:
    • In the seventh circle of Hell, those who commit suicide are transformed into trees, unable to speak or scream unless their branches are broken, making them bleed.
    • In the seventh Bolgia in the eight circle of Hell, thieves are transformed into snakes. To regain their human form, they have to attack and bite their fellow damned (thus stealing their human forms), only to be transformed again when they themselves are bitten again by the snakes.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: Those who refused to commit to a position in life were left to run back and forth in the borderlands, for even Hell won't take them in.
  • Body Horror: Several levels of Hell involve grisly torments:
    • Fortune tellers have their heads turned around backwards.
    • People who committed suicide are turned into trees that are broken by harpies and demon hounds and can only speak when bleeding.
    • Thieves are turned into snakes and have to regain human form by attacking others.
    • Possibly the nastiest example is what happens to Muhammad. Dante saw him as a schismatic (he viewed Islam as basically an offshoot from Christianity), so the Prophet is depicted split in half down the middle, with all his organs hanging out. And Dante still has a conversation with him.
    • The penance for Envy in Purgatory; people who committed the sin have their eyes sewn shut with wires. The idea is that they committed envy through their sight and so, to purge them of their sin, they see nothing.
  • Break the Haughty: Hell has a tendency to do this to people who were important and powerful in life.
    Virgil: "How many now hold themselves mighty kings, who here like swine shall wallow in the mire".
  • Bury Your Gays:
    • Homosexuals and usurers get the same level in Hell. note  By placing both homosexuals and usurers in the circle of the violent, and in a setting that so strongly symbolizes sterility (the burning desert), Dante establishes each sin as the opposite of each other: the homosexuals make sterile that which should be fertile (their sexuality— according to medieval theology, all sex should have procreation as its final purpose), while usurers make fertile that which should be sterile (wealth should be generated by nature or art, not by interest accumulated by existing wealth.)
    • Dante sees his gay mentor in the burning desert, but the reason he's there is ambiguous. note  Also, that part took place in the middle of Inferno, which has a special place in the other books as well. Thirdly, he depicts homosexuals as constantly running from being burned, which might be symbolic for how gay people had to run from being marked during their lives (more likely it has to do with the rain of fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah). note 
  • The Casanova: The first bolgia in the eight Circle of Hell is reserved to these fellows.
  • Casts No Shadow: Inverted when the souls being rehabilitated on Mount Purgatory recognize the Pilgrim as a living man because he casts a shadow, and marvel at his presence.
  • Character Filibuster: Paradiso in particular features long discussions of theology, philosophy, and morality.
  • The Chosen One: Dante says that he was chosen for its spiritual journey in order to help to REDEEM MANKIND with the book that he is going to write based on this experience (i.e. the Divine Comedy: intended as a sort of fifth gospel, so to speak).
  • Circles of Hell: The Trope Namer, if not the Trope Maker. Dante traverses all of them in the Inferno.
  • Cliffs Of Insanity: Purgatory is a giant mountain. Hell also has a lot of cliffs.
  • Clown-Car Grave: The heretics in Hell lie in flaming tombs, each of which can hold some thousands of sinners.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Trope Exemplar.
  • Corrupt Church:
    • There are many clergy members and a few Popes in Hell, punished for their greed and for perverting the Church by selling indulgences and church offices.
    • In Heaven (Paradiso), St. Peter himself harshly criticizes the church of the time and deems it corrupt, to the extent of calling the papal seat a "sewer of blood and stench".
  • Crapsack World: One could draw from the Comedy that Dante sees the world as this.
  • Creator Provincialism: The poem gives the impression that the entire universe is structured with respect to Medieval Italy and the Roman Empire. Notably, the lowest level of hell is shared by Judas, Brutus, and Cassius, because Dante apparently believed that destruction of an Empire based in Italy was a sin on par with betraying the son of God.
  • Cultural Translation:
    • In Dorothy L. Sayers' translation, Arnaut Daniel, who, in the Purgatorio, spoke Provençal rather than the narrative's Italian, now speaks in the Scots language. (However, most, if not all translations choose to explain Dante's historical and cultural references in footnotes or endnotes.)
    • This is taken to its logical extreme by Sandow Birk's translation, which translates Dante's vernacular Italian verse into slangy (and profanity-ridden) vernacular American English prose. Many of Dante's allusions to medieval life, history, and culture are replaced or augmented with references to modern life and pop culture, and the lists of sinners in Hell now include such figures as Bill Clinton, "Reagan, and Bush (both of them)."
  • Dead Person Conversation: All over the place. The only living person in the whole poem is Dante himself.
  • Dead Unicorn Trope: A typical description of the Inferno would probably mention "demons with pointy sticks torturing sinners chained to the wall,". This is actually a fairly uncommon punishment in Dante's Hell, and is shown directly only a couple of times; sinners are tormented by fire, ice, storms, hounds, snakes, etc.
  • Deliberately Painful Clothing: The punishment for Hypocrites in Inferno is to wear gilded lead cloaks.
  • The Devil Is a Loser: Satan is a whiny giant, trapped waist-deep in a frozen lake, beating his massive wings trying to fly away from heaven, and while doing so creating cold gusts of wind which freeze ice back up, and push him up into the broken shards of ice. Loser Indeed.
  • Dirty Coward: The Opportunists, who aren't allowed into Hell, but are still punished for it anyway.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Insofar as God is depicted at all, it's in an extremely abstract fashion.
  • Empathic Environment: When the Corrupt Church is discussed in Heaven, the sky turns dark and reddish, as if the whole cosmos is ashamed of how the true religion has been perverted.
  • The Everyman: "Midway through the journey of our life..."
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • The Uncommitted souls and fallen uncommitted angels aren't even considered worthy of entering hell, although they're still punished.
    • In the fiery desert of the seventh circle, blasphemers and sodomites keep themselves away from the usurers.
  • Evil Chancellor: 'Evil Counselors' (meaning those who advised others to do evil things) are in the 8th bolgia of the 8th circle. Their punishment is to be trapped within individual tongues of fire.
  • Evil Is Burning Hot: A large portion of hell is torturously hot, like the fiery sands and the river of blood, and fire is used as aspects of punishments in other areas. It notably averts associating Satan with fire, as he's trapped in the coldest part of hell.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: Two circles use cold as part of their punishment- the second circle (for gluttons) is constantly soaked by freezing rain, and the final circle (for traitors) is a frozen lake.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a story with a happy ending— seeing God.
    • Comedies traditionally ended with lovers being reunited (think A Midsummer Night's Dream or Twelfth Night) and sure enough, Dante is reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Beatrice, who meets him on the threshold of Paradise and guides him to the throne of God.
  • Extranormal Prison: This Ironic Hell features horrid weather, cliffs, monsters, demons, and a doorway marked "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
  • Eye Scream: Traitors to their guests are encased in the frozen lake Cocytus, with only their faces coming out. The intense cold freezes their tears, encrusting their eyes in ice. Any further tears cannot get out and increase pressure on the eyes.
  • Fainting: Dante faints twice near the beginning of Inferno, as the first tortures terrify him before he braces himself for the rest of the journey. He faints again towards the end of Paradiso as he approaches God.
  • Fantasy World Map: Diagrams of Hell and Purgatory are featured in many translations; some fine ones can be found here.
  • Fartillery: One of the devils in the later part of Hell lets out a huge fart as a sort of military trumpet. Even Dante himself points out the similarity.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Everywhere in Inferno (which is a given, since it depicts Hell), but the ones who really have it bad are the ones trapped in Hell's Vestibule — The Opportunists. As they never took sides between good and evil in life, so is their fate in death. They're not actually a part of Hell, and they have no chance at redemption. They just have one small place to be tormented for eternity alone by themselves.
  • Feathered Fiend: The harpies from the Forest of Suicides, who torture the souls of those who committed violence against themselves by tearing off the tree branches that are now their limbs and using them as nest materials.
  • Flipping the Bird: ...or the equivalent of that time: One damned soul curses God and gives Him "the figs"note  with both hands.
  • Fluffy Cloud Heaven: Often depicted as such in illustrations; the actual "landscape" of Paradise is a bit vaguely described.
  • From a Certain Point of View: One sinner asks Dante if he will clear the ice from his eyes after he tells his story. Dante responds that if he doesn't, may he "go to the bottom of the ice". As it turns out, the entrance to Purgatory is reached by traveling below the ice...
  • From Bad to Worse: As Virgil says, as awful the punishment of the sinners in hell already are, they will worsen after the Last Judgement.
  • Giant Flyer: Geryon, demon of fraud and keeper of the "Malebolge". He's described as a devil with the face of a honest man, body of a multicolored serpent, hairy wings and a scorpion's stinger.
  • Gorn: Frequent. Probably the worst is the punishment for the Sowers of Discord in the 9th Bolgia. Sinners there constantly walk in a circle, being hacked up by a demon and healing just in time to be mutilated again.
  • Hand Wave:
    • Two pagans are in Heaven, despite Christians being the only ones able to get in. The narrator ascribes this to the mysteries of God, which are unknowable to all.
      • However, to medieval Italians it was a fairly common legend that Pope Gregory I raised the Emperor Trajan from the dead and baptized him before Trajan died again. The Other was a man named Ripheus who was granted a grace by God of implicit faith, meaning though he lived before Christ he did so as a Christian, like those Hebrews who where also born before Christ.
    • Dante often passes out if he doesn't want to explain something.
  • Harping on About Harpies: Harpies appear in the Forest of Suicides, wherein they tear off the branches of the tree people (which as already mentioned, has the same affect as dismemberment) and uses them to build nests in said tree people.
  • Hellgate: Possibly the Trope Maker.
  • Hellhound:
    • Cerberus, who has the traits of a human like beard and hands.
    • The black bitches (as in female dogs) chasing and maiming the damned in the Forest of Suicides.
  • The Heretic: These guys can be found in the sixth circle of Hell.
  • Hero's Muse: Dante is sent on his quest for redemption through the afterlife by Beatrice, who enlists the help of the poet Virgil to guide him through Hell and Purgatory, and guides Dante through Heaven herself.
  • Hijacked by Jesus: Despite the generally Christian nature of this work, Dante borrows aspects of Hell (including the four rivers and various creatures) from the Greek underworld.
  • Human Popsicle: The traitors in Judecca, the last ring in the last circle of Hell, are completely entombed under the ice of Lake Cocytus, unable to move or speak.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: Everyone in the afterlife is either a well-known historical figure or someone who would be familiar to Dante's readers. It gets a justification as Dante's guides point out these exemplary figures, or Dante himself recognizes them. They also usually have more important places in Heaven or more picturesque punishments in Hell. There are some exceptions, though—the hoarders and spenders, for instance, are so featureless that they can barely be distinguished from each other, and Dante does pause to talk with a nameless Florentine suicide.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: In Paradisio, Dante makes this observation in Canto 22 after entering the Eighth Sphere of Heaven:
    And turning there with the eternal Twins,
    I saw the dusty little threshing ground
    that makes us ravenous for our mad sins,
    saw it from mountain crest to lowest shore.
    Then I turned my eyes to Beauty's eyes once more.
  • Interrupted Suicide: One theory of the Commedia is that Dante is contemplating suicide at the beginning of the poem. He describes himself as "lost in a dark forest," and what's the only other dark forest we see in the Commedia? The circle of Hell in which suicides are transformed into barren trees.
  • Ironic Hell: Everywhere in Inferno. A partial list:
    • The lustful, who were unable to control their sexual urges, are now unable to control anything as they are whirled about in a violent wind.
    • The gluttonous, who degraded themselves for their appetites, are trapped in putrid mud representing the garbage they produced in life.
    • Murderers, who spilled their neighbour's blood while alive, are forever submerged in the (boiling) blood of the Phlegethon.
    • Suicides are transformed into trees. Having voluntarily rejected the body and life that God gave them, they no longer have humanoid form and never will, even when all other souls are resurrected (instead, their bodies will just hang on their tree forms).
    • Flatterers are immersed in excrement, representing all the degraded and base flatteries they told on Earth.
    • Simoniacs, who perverted the meaning of the church by selling holy things for mortal money (the sin is named after Simon the Magus, who offered the apostles money if they would teach him the 'magic' that they did), are punished in an inversion of baptism- stuck upside-down in holes resembling baptismal fonts with flames burning at their feet (instead of water being poured over one's head in baptism).
    • Sorcerors and fortunetellers, who attempted to use fraudulent means to see the future, have their heads turned backwards so they cannot see what's in front of them.
    • Corrupt politicians are immersed in boiling pitch, representing the 'sticky fingers' and dark secrets of their corruption.
    • Hypocrites wear gilded lead robes (that look like a monk's habit, for extra irony points). These look nice and shiny on the outside but are in reality dull and heavy, like the hypocrites' own falsity.
    • Those who caused strife and division around them are themselves divided- by being hacked up by a demon.
    • Falsifiers, who are a 'disease' on society, are themselves afflicted by diseases.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: At one point while in the Cocito, Dante pulls a traitor's hair in order to force him to tell his story, going so far as to actually tear out handfuls of hair when the shade stubbornly refuses to say anything.
  • Kid from the Future: Dante speaks to his grand-great-grandfather in the Mars sphere of Heaven.
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!":
    • Dante's reaction upon meeting his hero, Virgil. (Figuratively speaking.)
    • And in Purgatorio, Statius' reaction to meeting Virgil.
  • List of Transgressions: Hell is divided into subsections by crime made life.
  • A Load of Bull: The Minotaur is the guardian of the three Violent circles, and is depicted as very wrathful and savage.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Betraying one's guests is this In-Universe- such sinners are immediately sent to Ptolomaea even though they're still alive, with a demon inhabiting their body until their death.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Geryon is described as a devil with the face of a honest man, the body of a multicolored serpent, hairy wings and a scorpion's stinger.
  • The Muse: Not only does Beatrice inspire Dante, but he invokes all 9 of them (plus Apollo!) to help write the epic the way it deserves.
  • No Fourth Wall: Dante addresses the reader repeatedly.
  • Nightmarish Factory: One part of hell is compared to the Venetian naval yard.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Ugolino, according to some interpretations, is implied to have eaten his children when imprisoned in the "Hunger Tower". In Hell, he continually eats the head of the man who imprisoned him there.
  • Not Drawn to Scale: Dante provides some scattered measurements for places and things in Hell (such as the distance around one circle and the height of a giant); from these, one can attempt to infer the overall dimensions of Hell, but the results are wildly inconsistent. But considering that it's Hell, see Alien Geometries.
  • The Nothing After Death: Limbo, the first and outermost circle of Hell, is inhabited by virtuous heathens (it's not an oxymoron) and unbaptized children who died without knowledge of Christ. They do not suffer torments but live forever without hope or the light of God. And while, depending on your faith, this might be a horrible fate, for people who exist there, like Socrates and other eminent pre-Christians, it's not a bad place. They essentially do there what they did in life: wax philosophic about everything without the distractions of sleep or sustenance.
  • Numerological Motif: The number 3 appears a lot, naturally. So does 9, which is 3*3.
    • And 10, which is 3x3+1 (for the One True God, of course)
    • The Divine Comedy as a whole is structured around the number 100. Each section has 33 cantos, with the exception of The Inferno, which has 34; the extra one serves as an general prologue for the entire poem.
  • The Oath-Breaker: The Moon is the sphere of oathbreakers who made it to Heaven despite it.
  • Patchwork Map: Hell juxtaposes regions with wildly different climates; justified in that it's a supernatural world shaped by divine will.
  • Pass the Popcorn: Dante gets so caught up listening to two sinners insulting each other that Virgil has to snap him out of it.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Dante feels quite sad about Paolo and Francesca (a couple in the circle of the Lustful) as well.
    • Count Ugolino, a traitor in the depth of Hell, actually becomes pitiable when he tells his tale about his sons.
      • Even more poignant if you consider that Dante's personal tragedy relates closely to Ugolino's because he was exiled from Florence with his (innocent) sons, as Ugolino was imprisoned with his. The fact that his family was condemned for his political choices weighted heavily on Dante's shoulders for all his later life.
    • The Limbo is this when compared to the whole Hell. The souls that belong to this circle didn't commit sin but neither were baptized, thus aren't free from the original sin and are still condemned to eternal punishment... which consists of staying in a somber, foggy place where they can move and talk freely and don't suffer any pain except from being unable to see God.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis:
    • The concept of circles of Hell and the quote "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" (or a close variant) are well-known and alluded to/copied in innumerable places, but their origin isn't as widely known. (However, in pop culture, they are usually seen with a Fire and Brimstone Hell, instead of the more varied and complex Ironic Hell of the Inferno.)
    • In Italy, many quotes from Hell have actually become proverbial. It's also worth nothing that about 15% of the most-used words in the modern Italian language were first used in literature by Dante in the Comedy.
      • This is because the Comedy is one of the first works to be written in Italian, rather than Latin.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: These guys end up in an huge open sewer in the eighth circle of Hell.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The souls of just rulers are in the Jupiter sphere in Heaven, where they unite to form the shape of a gigantic eagle.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Dante gives one to greedy Pope Nicholas III.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!:
  • Rhyming with Itself: Done intentionally. To prevent any sense of blasphemy, Dante only rhymed the word "Christ" with "Christ."note  Notable in that he had to do it only three times due to the rhyming system of the Comedy (ABA BCB CDC ... YZY Z).
  • Sacred Hospitality: Ptolomaea, the second to last round of the ninth circle of Hell, is reserved for those who betrayed their guests. Souls there are buried in ice with just their faces exposed, but their eyes frozen so they cannot weep. And they are sent to Hell before they're dead, their bodies becoming vessels for Demonic Possession.
  • Safety in Indifference: The virtuous pagans live in a very mild upper circle of Hell, where their only punishment is that they live without hope (of Heaven) or fear (of Hell). None of them seem to mind this much.
  • Satan: The final character Dante meets in Inferno is the emperor of Hell himself, Satan. Although he's rather weak and pitiful, despite being the largest creature Dante's ever seen. He's stuck in a torturously cold put of ice that's being sustained from a cold wind created by his own wings, which he flaps desperately in his attempts at escape. He doesn't even put up a fight when Dante and Virgil climb down his body, since he's too preoccupied crying in pain and chewing apart the bodies of Judas, Brutus, and Cassius with the three heads he has to mock the Trinity. Even his wings are ugly and molten, looking more like bat wings than the majestic span one would expect from the greatest of angels.
    "Were he as fair, as he now is foul, and lifted up his brow against the Maker, well may proceed from him all tribulation."
  • Self-Deprecation: Several times in Purgatorio, Dante meets someone and tries to show off some of his poetry, but Virgil rushes them along, saying his poetry doesn't matter.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: The damned are implied to have chosen their own fate, as they clamber madly to cross the river Acheron. Also, Lucifer's massive wings create the cold wind that keeps the lake Cocytus frozen, sustaining the ice trapping him in Hell and creating the very cold that tortures him.
  • Self-Insert Fic: The main protagonist of the poem, Dante, is a fictionalized version of the author who also interacts with many people he knew personally on his journey through the afterlives. While Dante has characters accurately predict his coming fame as a poet, as a whole, he depicts himself as a prideful person who comes off as rather ignorant when put up to the likes of Virgil and the transcendent Beatrice. He also can barely stand to look upon the punishments of Hell and is especially distressed to find some of his own colleagues are damned, though they themselves explain to him they have reason to be in Hell.
  • Seven Deadly Sins:
    • Purgatory is a mountain divided into seven terraces where people atone for each of the Deadly Sins. The one at the bottom is the one Dante considered the worst of them, and the sins become less grave as one ascends the mountain.
      • Pride: The first terrace has the prideful carry rocks up the mountain, forcing them to lower themselves and see the Earth for what it is rather than what their ego imagines.
      • Envy: The second terrace has angels who sew shut the eyes of the envious so they may not look upon others and their possessions. The envious then walk through the terrace listening to tales of generosity while wearing humble, penitential cloaks.
      • Wrath: The third terrace is covered with smoke, reflecting the blinding effect of anger, as the wrathful ascend.
      • Sloth: The fourth terrace forces the slothful to run with all their energy while the angels shout at them and encourage them not to waste time.
      • Greed: The fifth terrace has those who committed avarice to lie face down on the ground while they pray.
      • Gluttony: The sixth terrace's inhabitants must fast throughout their climb to the top, to the point their spiritual forms begin to look thin and gaunt.
      • Lust: The seventh terrace forces the lustful to burn their passions away by running through a fire. Unlike the other terraces, it seems everyone must go through this one to reach Paradise.
    • Hell includes punishments for lust, gluttony, greed, and wrath.
  • Seven Heavenly Virtues: They appear as beautiful maidens dancing around Beatrice's chariot in her triumphal procession at the end of Purgatory.
  • Single Tear: A soldier Dante meets in Purgatory was put there instead of Hell because he shed a single tear before dying.
  • Sin Invites Possession: The inhabitants of Ptolomaea, the second lowest portion of Hell, invited people into their homes and murdered them, only to have their souls immediately sent to Hell after committing the murder while their bodies became inhabited by demons.
  • Snicket Warning Label: Some early verses in the Paradiso warn readers not to continue further if they are not ready to deal with the complex theology discussed therein.
  • Spirit Advisor: Dante is guided through Hell by the spirit of Virgil, the famous Roman poet, who is more than familiar enough with the worldly sins of all those they encounter. It's only once they see the entirety of evil and reach Purgatory that Virgil begins to falter. He still guides Dante up the mountain and teaches him, but since Virgil himself is a denizen of Hell, the sermons of the Angels and the explanations of the spirits become far more essential for Dante to understand his surroundings. Once they reach the top of Purgatory, the Garden of Eden, Virgil bids Dante farewell as the greatest woman Dante ever knew, Beatrice, takes Dante through the spheres of Heaven as they become more abstract and beautiful.
  • Suicide Is Shameful: Dante portrays the souls of the suicidal as residing in the 7th circle of Hell, reserved for the violent. For committing violence against themselves, they have their bodies entombed in oak trees or strewn across thorny bushes and are feasted upon by demonic harpies, and for rejecting God's gifts, they will be denied the chance to regain their human forms come the Day of Judgement.
  • Swamps Are Evil: In the fifth circle of Hell, Dante describes the Styx as a foul swamp where the wrathful constantly tear each other apart and the sullen lay gurgling under the surface.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Although Dante has nothing but contempt for Satan and his minions, he often shows feelings of empathy, pity, and even respect for several sinners he meets in Hell. Virgil sometimes tells Dante off for this. After all, if an omniscient and all-loving God, why should anyone go against divine will and feel sorry for them?
  • Take Our Word for It: At the end of Paradiso, Dante prefaces his description of God by comparing his memory to the passion one feels after a dream they can't quite remember and admits he is so inadequate at describing the glory of "the Eternal Light" into words that he might as well have the tongue of an infant. Still,
  • Take That!:
    • Dante's personal and political enemies, as well as historical villains—even some of his friends—often end up in Hell. One of the most notable examples is none other than the then-current Pope, Bonifacius VIII, of whom Dante was not a big fan. According to Cracked.com, this was a big "screw you" to "Pope" Boniface and the town of Florence for double-crossing and exiling him (in an order that wasn't repealed until 2008). The pope's not in Hell yet, but it's stated that he will be.
    • Dante himself gets one when he meets Beatrice at the top of Purgatorio. While he expects a tender and loving reunion, she angrily lambasts him and tears him apart, calling all of heaven to bear witness to the fact that Dante doesn't love her like he thinks he does.
    • Mohammed and Ali are seen in the Circle of Hell reserved for schismatics, cut in half, a reference to how they supposedly divided God's domain; most Western Christians of Dante's day didn't realize that Islam was not originally a Christian sect, but started as something different, and that the bulk of its original followers had not been Christians before conversion.note 
  • Taken for Granite: The Furies on the walls of Dis threaten to call forth Medusa to turn Dante to stone, but Virgil shields him with his cloak.
  • A Taste of the Lash: The punishment for the seducers and pamperers (pimps) damned in the first ring of the eighth Circle of Hell is to be forced to march around said ring while being constantly whipped by demons.
  • Tears of Remorse: Shedding these can mean the difference between Hell and Purgatory.
  • Thicker Than Water: Those who betray their family are put in Caina, in the lowest circle of Hell, where they are frozen in the lake up to their necks.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Dante, upon seeing the penance of those guilty of pride in Purgatory, says he can already feel the weight of the boulders on his back, since he expects to spend time there once he dies.
  • This Loser Is You: The first line of the poem identifies that the poem begins "midway through the journey of our lives" as the protagonist himself becomes exactly middle-aged, making it clear he stands in for the audience. To further show his humanity in the face of his fantastic travels, Dante faints, weeps, kicks the heads of incapacitated shades, and lambastes in the narration things his character self almost immediately does.
  • To Hell and Back: Unable to confront sin and climb closer to God, Dante has the spirit of Virgil sent to him to guide him through Hell, so he may witness and understand the fullness of sin. Upon reaching the narrowest, coldest pit of Inferno, Dante and his guide climb atop the back of Satan and jump down into the core of the Earth, only to find themselves rising up onto the other side and reaching the first step of Mount Purgatory, beginning Dante's ascent to God.
  • Toilet Humour:
    • One of the Malebranche "makes a trumpet of his ass" as a salute to his fellow demons.
    • The flatterers in the second Bolgia are immersed in shit.
    • Mohammed's torso is split in half and his stomach drops out. Its lovely description translates to "the foul sack that makes shit of what is eaten".
  • Undead Barefooter: The illustrators (including Gustave Dore) usually depict all the deceased characters (including Virgil) barefoot; Dante wearing shoes literally symbolizes that he's the only living person there.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Those who betray their benefactors are in the lowest circle of hell, completely encased in the frozen lake and contorted horribly. The only ones beyond them are Satan, and Judas, Brutus, and Cassius, who Satan is chewing on.
  • The Unintelligible: In the fourth circle of Hell (where those who hoarded and wasted their wealth are punished), Dante and Virgil meet Plutus, the Roman god of wealth, who is heard muttering random gibberish to himself.
  • Weirdness Search and Rescue: In Inferno, the living poet Dante is given a free pass into and out of Hell to report on what he sees there, and is given the soul of Roman poet Virgil (a man who was in hell because he had the misfortune to live and die before the mission of Christ), as his tour guide.
  • Wish Fulfillment: Seeing as he gets to beat up people he doesn't like in Hell, confronts Satan, meets the woman he fell in love with during her life and be saved by her, and sees God Himself.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Saladin, the Muslim opponent of Richard the Lionhearted during The Crusades, is in the circle with virtuous pagans rather than further down among heretics, probably because of this trope.
    • Farinata degli Uberti (Inferno canto X) counts too. He was a Florentine past political leader, and one of the most prominent member of the Ghibellini (the faction which sided with the Emperor as opposed to the Guelfi, which sided with the pope) and he and Dante's ancestors were enemies. From their meeting in hell it is clear that Dante admires the man much even if he acknowledges their rivalry and differing viewpoints.
  • Wounded Gazelle Warcry: Helen of Troy in hell can be interpreted as having been this trope in life, rather than the passive object of desire she was in The Iliad: Dante gives her the full blame for the Trojan War, as if she got herself kidnapped by the Trojan prince on purpose in order to give her own nation an excuse to invade Troy.


Alternative Title(s): Divine Comedy, Dantes Inferno, Commedia

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/TheDivineComedy