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Hell in the divine Comedy and Aeneid

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dante incorporates Virgil’s portrayal of Hades (In The Aeneid) into his poem, and similarities between the Inferno and Hades can be drawn, however Dante wasn’t attempting to duplicate Virgil’s works. Although the Hell depicted in Dante’s Inferno is essentially based on the literary construction of the underworld found in Virgil’s Aeneid, in their particulars the two kingdoms are quite different. Virgil’s underworld is largely undifferentiated, and Aeneas walks through it without taking any particular notice of the landscape or the quality of suffering that takes place among the dead. Aeneas’ first concern is with the fate of his friends, then with meeting his father once more: the philosophical and religious significance of sin and death is nothing to him, and there is no moral judgement implied in the fate of the departed. In Dante’s Inferno, on the other hand, there is a systematic differentiation of the landscape, and each progressively lower circle of hell implies a deadlier sin. The quality of punishment given out to the sinners is thus increased as Dante’s descend, and Dante’s compassion for the dead lessens as he moves downward to the bottom of hell.Virgil’s underworld is really an extension of the natural world, being entered through a cave mouth at the end of a beach at the Euboian settlement of Cumae, renowned as the dwelling of Sibyl, it is she who permits his passage to the realm below:The cavern was profound, wide-mouthed and huge,Rough underfoot, defended by dark poolAnd gloomy forest. Overhead, flying thingsCould never take their way, such deathlyExhalations rose from the black gorgeInto the dome of heaven.(Fitzgerald, p168)Virgil’s first descriptions of the underworld are dramatic and turbulent, and there is even a series of symbolic fates that are medieval in their abstraction:And pale Diseases and sad Age ...

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