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 is a three-part epic by Florentine poet Dante, written some time between 1308 and 1321. It describes the author's journey through Hell, up the mountain of Purgatory, and into Heaven while guided by a damned poet and a beautiful saint. 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.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Zig-Zagged. Many souls end up in Hell because of their ambition, but those who were driven by said ambition to do good deeds end up in the sphere of Mercury in Heaven, the second-to-lowest one. Among others, Dante meets Emperor Justinian I there.
  • And I Must Scream: Inferno features this several times, which is a given since it depicts Hell.
    • 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, those who swore loyalty to masters and still betrayed them, are completely encased in grotesque positions. This is one of the only punishments so encompassing that Dante can't even talk to anyone in this Circle.
    • 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 admits that the Pride circle is where he expects to spend the largest part of his own penance.
  • 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 outdated scientific analogies, it can be 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 (specifically, the bolgia for simoniacs), and every time 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: Purgatorio's 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's 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 eighth 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 life of goodness without actively doing evil are left to run back and forth just beyond the gate to Hell, unable to rest in a single place. This is hardly better than the Hell that rejects them, since the souls here are constantly attacked by wasps that cause their faces to stream with blood and Dante goes to note that these countless souls who chose to do nothing with life can hardly be said to have lived at all. Unlike most of Dante's conceptions of the afterlife, this particular element failed to stick in the popular consciousness, although it did inspire the Central Theme of Dan Brown's Inferno, which otherwise has no thematic connection to Dante whatsoever.
  • Bloody Horror: Invoked with the river Phlegethon in Hell, which is a river of boiling blood.
  • 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".
    • Then there's the first terrace of Purgatory, which exists to purge the sin of Pride from souls.
  • Brown Note: By the seventh sphere of Heaven, Beatrice claims that the sight of her smile would be so brilliant that Dante would be set ablaze as if hit by lightning. This isn't to aggrandize Beatrice herself, but to show how far beyond our understanding the joy of being with God in Heaven is. In clarifying the divine nature of her incendiary happiness, Beatrice compares the scenario to an older example of this trope in the death of Dionysus's mother.
  • 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 the 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).
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Of course. To Dante it could not have been otherwise.
  • Circles of Hell:
    • The Trope Namer, if not the Trope Maker, are the nine circles Dante traverses in Inferno, which start from the top with the offenses that least distance man from God, and gradually get graver and graver until the very bottom of all, which is reserved for direct traitors to God like Satan and Judas.
    • The Seven Terraces of Purgatory each serve to reconcile people that committed one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Since Purgatory is a mountain with the entrance to Paradise at the top, the worst of the Sins (pride) has its terrace at the bottom, and sinners must then climb through the other terraces until they reach the least offensive sin (lust) and do penance for that.
    • The Spheres of Paradise appear to follow the same formula as Hell and Purgatory, where Dante first encounters the least exemplary of the place's inhabitants and rises to the most perfect example of those that dwell in this domain. Dante is disturbed by this, since it seems unjust that God would segregate different Saints after they had already reached Paradise, but his guide, Beatrice, handily answers his worries. She explains that Heaven isn't actually divided into different sections, it's just that God wanted to show Dante the different aspects of Heaven in a way he could understand. It's made very clear that everyone is equally and perfectly happy in Paradise, with the nun Dante meets in the lowest sphere shrugging off Dante's worries before going back to sing God's praises.
  • 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.
  • Confirmation Bias: In-Universe, Saint-Doctor Thomas Aquinas warns Dante against believing that he sees the world as God or his perfect creations see it, for his perception passes on truth "like an artist who knows his craft but has a hand that trembles." If he fails to recognize the faults of his opinions, Dante will fall into the ranks of idiot philosophers and heretics, since "affection for one’s own opinion binds, confines the mind."
  • Corrupt Church:
    • There are many clergy members and a few Popes in Hell. Most of them are seen in the circle for greed and the bolgias for simony (selling church offices- a much bigger problem then than it is now) and hypocrisy.
    • And then there's the Sphere of the Sun, which can be summed up as "St. Francis was a great man, unlike those corrupt Franciscan friars." "St. Dominic was also a great man, unlike those corrupt Dominican friars."
    • 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".
  • 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 the 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.
  • 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.
  • The Ferryman: There's a couple of them in Inferno:
    • The first one is Charon, the classic archetype. He ferries the souls of the recently deceased sinners across the river Acheron to Hell.
    • The second one is Phlegyasnote , who ferries Dante and Virgil across the Styx in the fifth circle of Hell.
  • 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 as the punishments 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.
  • God Is Good: The reason Inferno is such a terrible place is because it is the furthest place in the universe from God, and when Dante jumps off Satan's back to the surface, he begins an ascent through more beautiful and powerful areas of Purgatory and Paradise until he reaches the source of all joy and love in the Universe, God. Dante blissfully laments that his memory and his writing could do nothing to convey the pure joy he felt upon encountering God in the last Canto of the Comedy.
  • Gorn: Frequent in Inferno. 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 were 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 effect as dismemberment) and use them to build nests in said tree people.
  • Hellgate: Since Dante represents Hell with a physical Underworld, the entrance to the kingdom of the damned is a literal gate that includes an inscription written by the Author of Life which includes a description of the depravity of Hell, a recitation of the virtues of God that are rejected by entry, and a famous command: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
  • Hellhound:
    • Cerberus, who has the traits of a human-like beard and hands, punishes those in the Third Circle of Hell by ripping them apart in its three horrible mouths. Fittingly, Cereberus's infernal meals have been damned for gluttony.
    • 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. Their punishment is to lie in flaming tombs. The ones we see are there because they were Epicureans, which was considered heresy because Epicurus's deistic beliefs (he thought that the gods lived far off and paid no attention to mortal lives, and that the soul died with the body) contradicted major points of Christian doctrine.
  • The Hermit: The sixth sphere of Heaven (Saturn) houses those who left their worldly possessions to live a monastic life.
  • 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, and multiple sinners are prominent characters from Greek mythology..
  • Horrible Judge of Character:
    • Knowing without a doubt that a Perfectly Good and All-Knowing God had damned them, Dante still falls for the excuses of several characters being punished in Hell.
      • First, he faints with despair after an adulterous couple explain why they had no choice but to fall into sin. Their excuse? They heard a love poem about Lancelot's affair and thought it sounded pretty cool.
      • Second, Dante can't help but feel pity when he meets his former master, Brunetto Latini, punished for some type of violence. Dante thanks him for teaching him everything about writing and poetry and remembers how Latini taught him that the secret to immortality was to write brilliantly. Lattini reaffirms everything Dante says of him, even when Dante says he wouldn't have put Lattini in Hell, apparently not realizing that in life and now in death he lead Dante away from the true secret to immortality: living in Christ's Love. So in perpetuating Dante's error and leading him away from the Paradise the Poet will see much later, Lattini continues in death to do Violence against God.
    • Thomas Aquinas concludes a dialogue about human wisdom by observing that men are foolish when they casually judge whether another is damned or blessed, because to do so would be to "count ears before the corn is ripe." Since that's foolish, Aquinas reminds the ordinary man that he should not assume to be the Mind of God, for even one who appears to be a robber can be saved while the charitable giver may suffer in Inferno.
  • 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.
  • 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 neighbors' 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).
    • Sorcerers 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 gained from alterations of various sorts, are afflicted by diseases that make them unrecognizable.
  • 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 great-great-grandfather in the Mars sphere of Heaven. Contrary to most uses of the trope, it is Dante's ancestor who "predicts" Dante's future, namely, his exile from Florence.
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!":
    • Dante's reaction upon meeting his hero, Virgil. (Figuratively speaking.)
    • And in Purgatorio, Statius' reaction to meeting Virgil.
  • Light Is Good:
    • As Dante explains, "On high, joy is made manifest by brightness, as, here on earth, by smile." What that that means is that the saints living in Paradiso are encased in light, to the point that by the time Dante has reached the third sphere, they're too bright for Dante to recognize his old friends.
    • Each part of Heaven corresponds with a sphere in the Ptolemic universe, so the final sphere is the Sun, where Dante fully encounters God. The light and intensity of the sun are used to describe the sheer force of God's perfection and love for his universe.
  • 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.
  • Man on Fire: The fate of evil counsellors in the eighth circle of Hell. Dante sees, among others, Ulysses suffering this punishment.
  • 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.
  • Mystical Plague: Falsifiers (which include alchemists, perjurers and counterfeiters) are punished in the last bolgia in the 8th circle of hell by being afflicted by horrible diseases
  • 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 a general prologue for the entire poem.
  • The Oathbreaker: Saints who broke vows to God are relegated to the lowest sphere in Heaven, leaving the atomically charitable Sister Piccarda to live on the outskirts of Heaven only because she was forced into a marriage that lasted a day before she died of sickness. Dante's heavenly guide senses his discomfort with Piccarda's lesser place, so the guide explains the logic of the oath-breakers placement. The guide makes it clear that in some way, however small, Piccarda did will to be a part of that marriage, and that there are many things she could have done to avoid breaking her vow that she did not take. Despite that, the Guide makes it clear that this is a Downplayed Trope, since the Oath-Breakers are still living in happiness for eternity in the same Perfect Love that Moses, the Virgin Mary, and the angels are receiving.
  • 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.
  • Phony Psychic: All supposedly psychic people are condemned to the fourth bolgia in Malebolge, the circle of fraud, which suggests Dante thought all psychics are phony.
  • 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.
  • The Power of Love: The last verse of Paradise describes God as "the love that moves the Sun and the other stars".
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: These guys end up in the bolgia for flatterers- a huge open sewer.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Dante only dares to use the word for rape (stupro) once in the entire Comedy, in the seventh Canto of Inferno, the use of the perfect number in Hell suggesting that this Canto describes the perfection of evil. The "rape" Dante is describing is the unforgivable violation of the body of Heaven by Lucifer's creation of pain, death, and evil. So while rapists are never given a circle of punishment in Dante's Hell, Tobias Foster Gittes uses the Poet's word choice to argue that the bottom-most and most torturous punishment is saved for the original rapist, Satan, making rape the evil.
  • 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: Canto XIX of Inferno details the circle of Hell for corrupt priests, and since the sin of simony disgusts Dante especially, he has his Author Avatar preach to a damned Pope by asking how much treasure Jesus asked of Saint Peter before giving him the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Since the answer is "no treasure," Dante happily requests the deceased Pope stay in the fires of Hell to make sure his ill-gotten money is well-protected, as befitting one who is the ideal evangelist for the red dragon of Hell and the worshipper of hundreds of gods of silver and treasure. Whether out of anger and despair, the speech causes the damned Pope to struggle more violently from within his pit, but Dante claims that he would condemn his greed even further if not for Dante's respect for the office the damned held in life. The speech is the centerpiece of the Canto and encapsulates Dante's thoughts on simony by putting it in the context of The Four Gospels, the Book of Revelation, Italian politics, and his respect for the Papacy.
  • Recycled In Space:
  • Rhyming with Itself: Done intentionally. To prevent any sense of blasphemy, Dante only rhymed the word "Cristo" with "Cristo." Notable in that he had to do it only three times (in Paradiso Cantos XII, XIV, and XIX) 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, the Devil. 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."
  • Science Fantasy: Despite mainly concerning a poet's trips through the afterlife, the fact that The Divine Comedy places the afterlife in the physical universe means that the catacombs of Hell and the skies of Heaven are described according to what contemporary science had to say about the underground and what's over ground. For example, as Dante first enters the first sphere of Heaven with the beatified soul of his deceased lover, Dante tries to theorize as to why the Moon shows all those black spots on it (that we now know to be craters) before Beatrice points out that his assumptions about the "rarity and density" of matter are evidently wrong, making his theory invalid. Scenes like that make it something of a Ur-Example for Science Fantasy, but it should be noted that even the discussion of the Moon had a spiritual purpose; Beatrice goes on to discuss how the Moon, the stars, and anything made of matter relies on the will of the Deep Mind to continue to exist at all.
  • 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.
    • 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, although overall it's based around a different method of categorizing sins.
  • Seven Heavenly Virtues: They appear as beautiful maidens dancing around Beatrice's chariot in her triumphal procession at the end of Purgatory.
  • Shout-Out: Hundreds of historical, religious, and mythological figures appear throughout the poem to help the audience have a better idea of what sin, penance, and glory look like in a person. There's generally one or two of these references per Canto/Chapter, but in the twelfth canto of Paradiso, Dante goes to the extreme of having a saint list off all the great monks and scholars that dwell within his sphere of Heaven, ranging from a commentator of Dante's favorite poet to the great theologian Thomas Aquinas.
  • Single Tear: A soldier Dante meets in Purgatory was put there instead of Hell because he shed a single tear before dying.
  • Sinister Minister: Dante really hated corrupt priests, and pointed it out frequently. He even had a special bolgia specifically for those who sold church offices, where sinners were put upside-down into holes in the rock, with flames burning at their feet.
  • Sin Invites Possession: When Dante is confused at meeting people in Ptolomaea who he knows were still alive on Earth, the explanation is that breaking Sacred Hospitality is such a terrible crime that it invokes this- people who commit it have their bodies possessed by demons (who then act out the rest of that person's life) and their souls sent straight to hell.
  • 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.
  • The Stoic: Dante sees the Greek hero Jason being punished in the eighth circle of Hell. Unlike all other souls, Jason is described as enduring his punishment without any sign of pain.
  • 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 has decided they're unworthy of pity, 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.
  • 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, Boniface VIII, of whom Dante was not a big fan. This was a big "screw you" to Boniface and the town of Florence for exiling him (in an order that wasn't repealed until 2008). That 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.
    • The Prophet Muhammad and his son-in-law, 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 move past the beasts of the world 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".
  • Treachery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Inferno. The Ninth Circle of Hell is a vast frozen lake in which traitors are entombed. In the center of it all is Lucifer himself, trapped up to his waist, his wings beating in a futile attempt to free himself but the winds freezing the water. And his three heads are chewing on Brutus, Cassius, and Judas Iscariot.
  • 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 members 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, even as 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?from=Main.TheDivineComedy