Dante’s Inferno is the very foundation of our very understanding of Hell as it paints a very vivid picture of what Hell may look like. Dante wrote his Divine Comedy as a commentary on the religion and politics of Italy in the early 14th century. At that time, Italy lacked stability— and was without a secure government. Political turmoil ruled the country, and many competing factions fought to gain control of this one great country.
It was really down to two groups: the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The Guelphs supported the Pope, and the Ghibellines supported the Holy Roman Emperor. Together the Pope and the Holy Roman empire ruled over a selection of countries and territories in Europe. The Guelphs, being the more working class party of the two, wanted more say for the merchants and citizens of the government. The Ghibellines were mainly richer citizens who wanted the Emperor to maintain control—and say—over all of his people. Religion and politics were extremely tightly connected at this time.
Although recognized as a masterpiece in the centuries immediately following its publication, the work was largely ignored during the Enlightenment, with some notable exceptions such as Vittorio Alfieri; Antoine de Rivarol, who translated the Inferno into French; and Giambattista Vico, who in the Scienza Nuova and in the Giudizio su Dante inaugurated what would later become the romantic reappraisal of Dante, juxtaposing him to Homer. The Comedy was “rediscovered” in the English-speaking world by William Blake – who illustrated several passages of the epic – and the romantic writers of the 19th century. Later authors such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Samuel Beckett, C. S. Lewis and James Joyce have drawn on it for inspiration. In T. S. Eliot’s estimation, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them. There is no third.” For Jorge Luis Borges, the Divine Comedy was “the best book literature has achieved.”
The effects of Dante’s Inferno were felt strongly after the Divine Comedy was published. Many saw it as a lesson on the consequences of leading a sinful life. Dante’s version of Hell was taken very seriously, and it was used as warning to those who may have strayed from the straight path. The effects of Dante’s Inferno are still felt today. He gives us the most widely known version of Hell, and for most people, Dante’s Hell is the standard picture that jumps to mind. For some people today, this book is still taken very literally and is once again a warning about the consequences of leading an immoral life.