The Inferno clearly traces its ancestry, in part, to The Aeneid. As an “autobiographical” record of a spiritual struggle, it also has equally obvious roots in Augustine’s Confessions..
Dante’s Inferno is a narrative of a journey he traveled through hell in order for him to find peace and spirituality. It starts with him being lost in his sin and then the Virgil appears as a spiritual guide. As a spiritual guide, Virgil tells Dante that he can only erase or get rid of his sins and darkness is to take him to a journey through hell. This would help Dante recognize that his sins had consequences and he would be able to experience those consequences. Through his journey, Dante sees punishment for all those who are damned into hell and he also sees faces that he recognizes. This scares Dante, but for him it was even more terrifying when he interacts with these individuals and they are able to foretell his life if he continued to sin as he was. They continued the journey and Dante keeps seeing unspeakable punishments until they finally reach Purgatory.
I found there were a few similarities between the Aeneid, Inferno, and Confessions. Dante’s classic was definitely influenced by Virgil and Augustine’s works. I was able to see those influences throughout the poem. One example was, earlier in Dante’s Inferno, he is struggling and drowning in despair, during this time Virgil finds Dante and this is where their journey starts. The scene was predisposed by Augustine’s explanation of how he was spiritually lost during his earlier years. Augustine gave into temptations, turned away from his god, and as a result lived in misery. Another example that was inspired by Augustine was the journey of his soul of becoming closer to god. Dante was inspired with Augustine’s journey, but Dante’s trip to hell was described as literal and figurative rather than Augustine’s whose journey was more of a metaphorical journey. Both of their journeys was very different, but the end result was the same for both, to obtain the ultimate closeness to god.
In Confessions, Dante’s inspiration comes from Virgil’s Aeneid. Besides Virgil being the actual spiritual guide, Inferno and Aeneid consists of epic journeys. The Aeneid was a poem about his path to find homes for those Trojans who were left homeless due to the Trojan War. During his travels, he has to take a trip to hell. Dante and Aeneas are led through hell by a guardian. Aeneas is led by a mortal with god-like powers from Zeus called Sybil, while Dante is led by Virgil. By making Virgil a character in his poem, it proves that Dante was deeply impacted by Virgil’s work. Dante recognizes the similarities of both stories. During both stories, the guardians are represented as protectors of the men they are guiding through this horrific place. In The Aeneid, when Sybil and Aeneas are threatened by Charon, we see how Sybil stands up to him. We also see how during The Inferno, Virgil is the guardian protecting Dante from all the evil and dangers that surround him during his journey to hell. Virgil says to Dante in Canto 9, “Now turn your back and cover your eyes, for if the Gorgon comes and you should see her, there would be no returning to the world,” (Puchner, 1628). At this point Virgil makes sure to cover Dante’s eyes so that he does not turn into stone.
In conclusion, it appears that the characters all interact with the dead. In The Aeneid, Aeneas asks a dead person about his disfigured face, and Dante illustrates the idea of talking to dead people. When Dante met the Jovial Friars he asks, “Who are you, distilling tears of grief, so many I see running down your cheek, and what kind of pain is that it can glitter,” (1678). I found that many of the stories detailed in Dante’s Inferno came from Confessions and The Aeneid and he adjusted many of his works from previous writers.
Puchner, Martin, ed. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. 9th ed. New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, Inc., 2014. Print.