Study Questions for the Inferno, Cantos I, II, III, and IV

from The Divine Comedy


Canto I


  1. How old was Dante when he wrote The Divine Comedy, and in what year was it written?


  1. Where does Dante find himself at the beginning of the poem, what time of day is it, and how did he end up there?


  1. What does Dante mean by the following metaphors and figures of speech?

“shadowed forest” and “savage forest” (lines 2 and 4)

“full of sleep” (line 11)

“abandoned the true path” (line 12)

“that same planet which serves to lead men straight along all roads” (line 18)

“night of sorrow” (line 20

“lake within my heart” (line 21)

“my spirit, still a fugitive” (line 25)

“Divine Love first moved those things of beauty” (line 9)

“the gentle season” (line 10)

“ancient spirits in their pain as each of them laments his second death” (line 117)

“those souls who are content within the fire” (line 119)

“the blessed people” (line 120)

“that Emperor who reigns above” (line 124)

“His city, his high capital” (128)

“the gateway of Saint Peter” (line 134)


  1. What three beasts did Dante encounter when attempting to climb the hill?  What do some scholars believe these three animals symbolize?  (See footnote.)


  1. What does Virgil say that reveals his identity to Dante without saying his name?


  1. What does Dante say about his admiration for Virgil?


  1. What does Virgil say about the she-wolf, and what animal does he say will hunt her down and thrust her back down to Hell?


  1. What will Dante see and hear as Virgil guides him through Hell?



Canto II


  1. At what time of day does Canto II begin?


2.     For whose help does Dante ask in recording what he sees on his journey?


  1.  Who are the only two human beings known to have visited the afterlife while they were still alive?


  1. Who asked Virgil to guide Dante “in his path along that lonely hillside,” and why was she so worried about Dante?  Where did she come from, and what prompted her to ask for Virgil’s help?  What did she promise to do for Virgil in return for serving as Dante’s guide?




  1. Why was Beatrice not afraid to leave Heaven?


  1. Which saint told Beatrice to go to Virgil and ask him to be Dante’s guide?


  1. Who is the “gentle lady” in heaven who sent the saint to Beatrice


  1. What does Virgil ask Dante at the end of Canto II, and what is Dante’s response to this question?



Canto III


  1. What is the last line of the inscription above the gates of Hell?


  1. What is the Ante-Inferno, which souls are condemned to live there, and what is their punishment?


  1. What is the name of the first of the four rivers of Hell?


  1. Who is the ferryman that takes the souls across this river, and why does he object to taking Dante in his boat?


Canto IV


  1. What is the first circle of hell called, and what two type of souls live there?


  1. What is the only punishment of those souls who live in this circle?


  1. What souls did Virgil see the “Great Lord” deliver from this circle and take up to heaven with him?


  1. In addition to Virgil, what four famous poets live in this circle?


  1. Describe the “exalted castle” Dante sees in this circle and its surroundings.


  1. What famous real people and characters from epic literature does Dante see in the meadow filled with light?  What two great Greek philosophers are there?