Interpretation and Importance of Allegories in Dante’s Inferno

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“The knowledge of sin is the beginning of salvation” (Think-exist, par. 5). This quote from a Latin Proverb emphasizes the importance of recognizing sin and striving to live life in a more honorable manner. Dante Alighieri portrays this message in his infamous three-part poem, The Divine Comedy. The Italian poet takes the audience on a journey through the stories of Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Heaven (Paradiso). Starting in the Inferno, Dante chronicles the expedition he himself experiences, under the faithful guidance of the Roman poet Virgil, as he travels through the nine circles of hell to reach heaven. Though an imaginative and gripping story, through the detailed descriptions of punishments, settings and characters, the poem ultimately serves an allegorical purpose by depicting one man’s desperate journey from confusion and depression to salvation. In essence, an allegory is a story with both a literal and symbolic meaning. While Dante tries to escape hell, Alighieri basically describes how people unconsciously “wander” off God’s path and fall into sin. The allegorical system of the Inferno, specifically Canto I, contains numerous symbols of Christian beliefs which ultimately assist Alighieri in his efforts to creatively warn readers about the consequences of the sins of humankind.

Initially the Inferno begins with Dante lost in forest and unable to remember his way out. This is shown when it reads, “In the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood, astray/Gone from the path direct…” (I. 2-3). This line not only conveys Dante’s disorientation, but on a deeper level reveals how he is a middle-aged man who has fallen of the “direct path” of God. The description of the forest as “gloomy” symbolizes the dark place he is in his life. Additionally, when Dante writes, “That forest, how robust and rough its growth, / Which to remember only my dismay/ Renews, in bitterness mot far from death” (I. 5-7), expands upon...
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