“The Most Harrowing Paintings of Hell Inspired by Dante’s Inferno

“Dante Alighieri’s depiction of the afterlife has inspired generations of readers since the Divine Comedy was first published in 1472. In the 14,233 verses of this poem, Dante envisions a trip to the afterlife, guided first by the Roman poet Virgil, who leads him through Hell and Purgatory, and then by his beloved Beatrice, who leads him through Paradise. His detail-rich descriptions of Hell, envisioned as nine concentric circles containing souls of those “who have rejected spiritual values by yielding to bestial appetites or violence, or by perverting their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellowmen,” have inspired artists for the last five centuries. Here are some of the most poignant visualizations of Dante’s Inferno.

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Stradanus, Canto VIII (1587-1588)

Flemish painter Jan van der Straet, known by his Italian name ‘Stradanus,’ completed a series of illustrations of the Divine Comedy between 1587 and 1588, currently preserved at the Laurentian Library in Florence. This illustration refers to Canto VIII, where the wrathful and slothful are punished. Stradanus combines elements of Italian Mannerism, such as painstaking attention to detail, with distinctive Flemish traits like the physiognomy of the demonic figure steering Dante’s boat, who shows a deeply harrowing expression.”    –V. M. Traverso, Aleteia, July 17, 2020

Paola Rodriguez and Raymond Capra on Purg. 1 for “Canto per Canto”

“Paola M. Rodriguez and Raymond Capra discuss Dante’s arrival on the island of Purgatory. Although this canto explores themes of liminality, it is central to Dante’s journey. This is the moment when Dante encounters Cato, the enigmatic figure who died by suicide and who now watches over the souls on the shores of Purgatory. Join us as Rodriguez and Capra investigate this innovative representation of the renowned Roman and the significance of the reed belt Virgil gives Dante, as he begins his journey to the top of Mount Purgatory.” – Kate Travers

Listen to/watch “Purgatorio 1: Cato the wise poet/prophet and the humble reed of exegesis” here.

Canto per Canto: Conversations with Dante in Our Time is a collaborative initiative between New York University’s Department of Italian Studies and Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, and the Dante Society of America. The aim is to produce podcast conversations about all 100 cantos of the Divine Comedy, to be completed within the seventh centenary of Dante’s death in 2021.

Elizabeth Coggeshall, “Bad Apples and Sour Trees”

“Among the Times photographs, there is an image of a Black protester in Atlanta, cutting through the smoke, his open palms raised. He cries out, a vox clamantis in deserto, in righteous rage against the injustice that killed George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans. His defiant approach is a picture of the words Virgil uses to describe his charge at the entrance to Purgatory: ‘He goes seeking freedom, which is so precious, as one knows who gives up his life for its sake.’

Dante’s Hell

“Soon, the world will be able to see an extraordinary film based on Dante Alighieri’s literary masterpiece, the Divine Comedy – Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise.  Dante’s Hell is the first slate of a vibrant and historic documentary trilogy, which could be the blockbuster of the year.  Not until now, has this story been told so descriptively by visual art from artists of the highest caliber and an array of celebrities and known scholars.

Dante’s Hell, produced and directed by Boris Acosta, is a compelling four-quadrant and spectacular documentary like no other, presented as a visual and narrative journey to InfernoDante’s Hell is a rare and unique film featuring an amazing international cast such as Eric Roberts and Franco Nero, among more than 30 celebrities, scholars and artists from Italy, US, UK, including Monsignor Marco Frisina from The Vatican.”    —

Vergil – Halo 3: ODST

“Vergil was a subroutine built into the larger Superintendent artificial intelligence construct of New Mombasa. It later merged with Quick to Adjust, a renegade Covenant Huragok who would subsequently be known as ‘Vergil’ among many humans.

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The name Vergil itself is likely a reference to the Divine Comedy, specifically to Virgil, the poet that guides fellow poet Dante through the nine circles of hell and purgatory, much in the same way the Rookie is guided through a metaphorical hell-on-earth, a destroyed New Mombasa, and also through the nine ‘circles’ of audio logs, a reference to the nine circles of hell.”    —Halopedia, August 5, 2019

Learn more about Bungie’s 2009 video game Halo 3: ODST here.

American Horror Story: Dante’s Inferno Theory Explained”

“Ryan Murphy’s long-running horror anthology series, American Horror Story, has no shortage of fan theories surrounding it; one suggests that the first nine seasons correspond with the nine circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno.

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Inferno is part of a 14th century epic poem by Dante Alighieri, the first part of the Divine Comedy. The concept of nine circles – or layers – of hell has been utilized many times throughout horror’s cinematic history, as it addresses sin, purgatory, and serves as a journey into the dark underworld. This theory surfaced long before all nine seasons of American Horror Story aired, and clever fans have been able to make each circle work to correspond with a different season of the show. While there are theories as to which season best suits a specific circle, they are all represented by Inferno in some way; everything is neatly accounted for.

In 2014, the theory surfaced, and in 2017, Murphy posted a list on Instagram that brought the theory back to life; he assigned seven of the nine seasons to specific circles, which has become the accepted ‘norm’. Since then, seasons 8 (Apocalypse) and 9 (1984) have aired; they also fit the remaining two circles, interestingly enough. The nine circles of hell discussed in Dante’s Inferno are: limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery. While these are listed in order, the seasons do not correspond with each circle sequentially. The commonly-accepted connections are: Murder House (limbo), Asylum (fraud), Coven (treachery), Freak Show (greed), Hotel (gluttony)Roanoke (anger), Cult (heresy), Apocalypse (violence), and 1984 (lust).”    –Jack Wilhelmi, Screen Rant, June 2, 2020

“The Dante Code”

“Renaissance art fans will note that this sketch evokes Botticelli’s famous 1495 portrait of Dante Alighieri, the medieval author of the Divine Comedy. In this cornerstone of Italian literature, Dante describes his mythical journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise, guided first by the shade of the Roman poet Virgil and later by the ghost of Beatrice Portinari, the girl Dante loved in childhood but never married. Among other things, the Divine Comedy is an allegory of Christian suffering and redemption, a romantic love story, a veiled account of Dante’s political exile from his beloved Florence, and a cultural manifesto that established the Italian language as a legitimate literary alternative to Latin. There are no obvious references to Iceland in the Divine Comedy, an epic poem of more than 14,000 lines whose original manuscript has never been found, or in any of Dante’s other works. Nowhere in the various accounts of Dante’s life is it mentioned that he ever visited Iceland. So why are we here?

We’re here because Gianazza has spent the past decade trying to prove his theory that the Divine Comedy is not a mythical story about the afterlife but rather a factual, albeit coded, account of a secret journey to Iceland Dante made in the early 1300s. Why would Dante shlep all the way from exile in sunny Ravenna to a cold, foggy island populated by Scandinavian farmers and their livestock, and not tell anyone? Gianazza believes that Dante was following in the footsteps of medieval Christian warriors called the Knights Templar. He hypothesizes that these knights had visited Iceland a century earlier carrying a secret trove that they concealed in an underground chamber in the Jökulfall Gorge.

The Templars picked Iceland for their hiding place, Gianazza believes, because it was one of the most distant and obscure places known to medieval Europeans, who sometimes identified it with the frozen, semimythical Ultima Thule of classical geography. The Templars calculated the exact coordinates of the chamber and identified landmarks to orient future visitors. Years later Dante acquired the secret knowledge, made a pilgrimage to the site, and then coded the directions into his great epic so that future generations might follow in his footsteps. Like Dante before him, Gianazza is searching for what some might call the Holy Grail, a term that he avoids. Having cracked Dante’s code, he expects to find early Christian texts and perhaps even the lost original manuscript of the Divine Comedy, all sealed in lead to guard them from the damp Icelandic weather. Gianazza launched his quest several years before Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code, but in some ways he’s a more cautious, real-life version of symbologist Robert Langdon, the hero of Brown’s best-selling thriller.”    –Richard McGill Murphy, Town & Country, January 18, 2013

“Why we should read Dante as well as Shakespeare”

“Dante can seem overwhelming. T.S. Eliot’s peremptory declaration that ‘Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them: there is no third’ is more likely to be off-putting these days than inspiring. Shakespeare’s plays are constantly being staged and filmed, and in all sorts of ways, with big names in the big parts, and when we see them we can connect with the characters and the issues with not too much effort.

Dante is much more remote – a medieval Italian author, writing about a trip he claims to have made through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise at Easter 1300, escorted first by a very dead poet, Virgil, and then by his dead beloved, Beatrice. and meeting the souls of lots of people we only vaguely know of, if we’ve heard of them at all. First he sees the damned being punished in ways we are likely to find grotesque or repulsive. And then, when he meets souls working their way towards heavenly bliss or already enjoying it, there are increasing doses of philosophy and theology for us to digest.

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The addictiveness is evident from the fact that Dante enthusiasts, Christian or not, find it hard to imagine Hell in any other way, and spend happy minutes musing about which circle is best suited to some particular friend, enemy or public figure. Dante thought Paradise was much more difficult to get into and much more difficult to describe. We are certainly not accustomed to prolonged evocations of happiness. Paradiso gives us one way, and an astoundingly dynamic one, of thinking about what human happiness might ultimately be.”    –Peter Hainsworth, Oxford University Press Blog, February 27, 2015

Christopher R. Miller, “Purgatory Is for Real” (Review of G. Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo)

“The afterlife has also been having a cultural moment in recent fiction, but typically in the form of something other than heaven—call it, for lack of a better word, purgatory. In the popular television series The Good Place, the vaguely named realm of the title turns out to be something else entirely, and its characters find they have their ethical work cut out for them. Two recent novels have also set their action in a postmortem limbo, with similar narrative implications: George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo (2017) and the Finnish author Laura Lindstedt’s Oneiron (just published in an English translation by Owen F. Witesman) imagine versions of the bardo, the Tibetan Buddhist transitional state between death and rebirth.

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“From the perspective of the petal-scented heaven that Saunders intimates, the ghosts are the myopic schlemiels, but their fear of ‘leaving behind forever the beautiful things of this world’ takes on a touchingly quixotic grandeur. Writ large, their sense of peril, uncertainty, and loss has obvious allegorical resonance, suggesting both the president’s interminable state of mourning and the nation’s passage through war and precarious rebirth. In this, Saunders’s bardo is not unlike Dante’s purgatory—a place of unfinished business, nostalgic longing, imaginative engagement with the living, and above all, therapeutic forms of work.”   — Christopher R. Miller, “Purgatory Is for Real,” Public Books, May 23, 2018

“Dante Inspires Us to Follow Our Own Path”

“The Italian government has designated March 25 as ‘Dantedi,’ a day set aside to honor and pay tribute to Dante Alighieri, ‘Il Sommo Poeta’ (‘The Supreme Poet’). According to scholars, Dante’s journey to Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, which he recounted in his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy began on March 25 (his travels in the afterlife began during Easter week in they year 1300).

This year, 2020, commemorates the 700th anniversary of the completion of the Divine Comedy, Unfortunately, Dante died in 1321, some 150 years before the Divine Comedy was published.

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‘Dantedi’ reflects the spirit of the Fourth Canto of the Inferno, depicting Virgil’s welcome as he returns among the great ancient poets spending eternity in Limbo: ‘L’ombra sua torna, ch’era dipartita’ (‘His spirit, which has left us, returns’). Indeed, ‘Dantedi’ is an opportunity for us to welcome Dante’s spirit back to our society – a spirit that encompasses innovation, imagination, inspiration, and intensity. Taken together, those ‘4-i’s’ are the essential ingredients for hope and a brighter future for ourselves and our posterity. And, perhaps, embracing those ‘4-i’s’ will help us to find a way to get through the current global health crisis – to stop this dreaded illness that continues to inflict our world.

Dante’s lesson to all of us: “Segui il tuo corso e lascia dir le gente” (“Follow your own road and let people talk”). Basically, Dante is telling us to follow our own star – to walk our own unique path. And, when things become challenging, Dante reminds us that ‘The path to Paradise begins in Hell.'”    –Hudson Reporter Reader, Hudson Reporter, March 15, 2020