"Blessed be that Lady of infinite pity, and blessed be thy taxed and courteous spirit
that came so promptly on the word that she gave thee.

Thy words have moved my heart to its first purpose.
My guide! My Lord! My Master! Now lead on:
one will shall serve the two of us in this."

-Inferno Canto II II. 130-135

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The underlying theme of The Inferno is sometimes hard to pinpoint, due to its size and multitude of various viewpoints and allusions. We have a large cast of characters from different backgrounds that all end up in Hell with Dante himself as the main character. To put it simply, The Inferno is Dante's journey through hell and later parts of The Comedy into Purgatory & Paradise. A few of the main characters of The Inferno are...

Dante

As the title suggests, Dante is the main character of our story. By using the author's perspective in the story, we gain the value of personal insight of that character, as if from their own eyes. For The Inferno this is doubly important, as we are seeing one man's journey down the paths of Hell and his trials of redemption for the sins he had committed. Dante treads these levels of Hell under the guidance of Virgil and we gain from his point of view, the power of reason. Dante's sin is that of acedia, or sloth/laziness in more common terms. Thrust into the bowels of Hell for his sin, he has to move forward in the only way he can. Armed with the celestial aid of Beatrice and the wisdom of Virgil, Dante will do just that.


Virgil

He is led on this journey by Virgil, the historic Roman poet who wrote the Epic of The Aeneid. It is interesting that Virgil is to be his guide, both historically and politically speaking. Virgil was responsible for creating the national epic of Rome's founding, based off of fragmented segments of Homer's work in The Illiad & The Odyssey. It is perhaps reasonable to assume Dante would have wanted an essential figure of politics to be his guide on this journey through hell, given his bitterness and goal to have The Divine Comedy act in some ways as political satire. Beyond that, from a literary point of view, Virgil was simply a guide to the epic form. Just as Virgil built off Homer, Dante built off Virgil and uses his as a "Guide" both within the story and it's literary shape. In terms of history, Virgil would occupy the level of Hell with other virtuous pagans. Those who were not admissible to Heaven as they were born before Christ shed his blood for mankind, granting them entry to the Holy Kingdom. He acts as Dante's symbol in the text of all these things, and the light of human wisdom.

Beatrice

Beatrice is perhaps one of the pure characters within The Divine Comedy. She is based off of an actual person. A real Beatrice was around court when Dante was growing up. He would first glimpse her at nine years old and falls maddeningly in love with her. Even though she was eventually wed to another man and died young in 1290, she was an instrumental part of Dante's life and thought process. He fell into a deep depression when she died, and he truly never forgot her. Within The Divine Comedy, the character of Beatrice is as good as the one in Dante's life, who sends Virgil to Hell to help guide him to her in Heaven.