Inferno

On Good Friday 1300 AD, in Dante\'s thirty-fifth year, he goes astray from the
straight road into the Dark Wood of Error. Seeing the Sun (Divine Illumination)
lighting the Mount of Joy in the Distance, he attempts to climb up the
mountainside but is blocked by three beasts of worldliness: the Leopard of

Malice and Fraud, the Lion of Violence and Ambition, and the She-Wolf of

Incontinence. When his hope is nearly lost, the shade of the Roman poet Virgil
(a symbol of Human Reason) appears to him. Virgil has been sent by Beatrice in

Heaven to lead Dante from error; he explains that to defeat the beasts it is
necessary to take the harder route through Hell (where sin is recognized),

Purgatory (where sin is renounced), then to Heaven to revel in the light of God.

Dante accepts and sets off with him. The Poets pass through the Gate of Hell
(inscribed with the famous line, Abandon all hope ye who enter here) and step
into the Vestibule, where they see the torments inflicted on the opportunists
and those who took neither side in the Rebellion of the Angels. They are not
officially in Hell nor Heaven because their actions in life were not good enough
or bad enough to warrant a place in either. They must forever pursue a banner
just out of their reach while being stung by wasps; the blood and pus flowing
from their wounds is feasted upon by worms and maggots. (The punishments in

Inferno always fit the crime. The wasps signify the sinners guilty consciences
and the worms and maggots, their moral filth.) The Poets wish to be ferried
across the river Acheron by the boatman Charon, but Charon realizes that Dante
is still living and refuses them passage until Virgil makes a good argument for

Dante\'s case. Charon reluctantly agrees, but Dante faints out of pure terror and
only awakes when he is on the opposite bank. Upper Hell, for those who committed
the least serious sins, is made of five circles, each containing fewer sinners
and smaller than the one before it. The first of these is Limbo, where
unbaptized children and virtuous pagans are placed. Virgil is one of these
souls, who lived decent lives but died before Christ came (in Dante\'s mind,
belief in Christ was necessary to enter Heaven). They are not tormented but must
spend eternity without hope. Dante and Virgil tarry in Limbo to talk with other
great poets of the ancient world. (Dante must have had tremendous pride in
himself to have imagined walking with Homer and Ovid.) Entering the second
circle, where the torments begin, the Poets are blocked by Minos, the beast who
judges the damned and condemns each soul to its proper level of Hell, but Virgil
convinces him to let them pass. (Dante fused pagan mythology and Christian
beliefs together in his Hell quite often.) They then see the souls of the
carnal, swept around by tempests much as they allowed their reason to be swept
away by passion in life. Here they meet Paolo and Francesca, who were murdered
by Francesca\'s husband before they could repent from their sin of adultery.

After hearing their story, Dante faints again. Upon recovering, Dante and Virgil
enter the third circle, where storms of stinking snow and freezing rain fall and
form slush under their feet. Cerberus, a three-headed dog, guards the gluttonous
souls and chews at them. One of the gluttons, Ciacco, a Florentine like Dante,
prophesizes Dante\'s later exile. (It becomes apparent later that the damned can
see far into the future but cannot see the events of the present. Thus on

Judgement Day, the last day, their powers will become useless.) The fourth
circle is guarded by the monster Plutus but Virgil again manages to talk his and

Dante\'s way past him. (I assume that this means Human Reason can always outwit
anything hellish.) The circle is filled with souls of hoarders and wasters, who
are eternally at war with one another. They are in Hell because in thinking of
nothing but money they destroyed the light of God within them. It is now past
midnight on Good Friday, and the Poets proceed to the fifth circle, the Marsh of

Styx. This is the last circle of Upper Hell. The souls of the wrathful attack
one another in the marsh and the souls of the sullen lie entombed beneath the
slime. The Poets stand at the edge at the edge of the marsh and Phlegyas, the
ferryman of Styx, rushes across thinking they are new souls to torment and