Recognizing Allegory in Inferno

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Dante's Inferno - Recognizing Allegory

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Activity Overview


When studying allegorical texts, it is important that students understand the concept as a foundation for the reading. An allegory is like an extended metaphor, where elements of the story are symbolic of a deeper meaning. Since allegories are works that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning (usually moral or political), it is important that students engage not only with the surface details, but with this deeper level as well.

In Inferno, Dante uses the allegory of his own journey through Hell to reflect the spiritual journey that leads to better understanding and acceptance of one’s own situation in life. Dante chooses a revered poet to represent Human Reason and bring him away from Error caused by Worldliness, through Hell (the representation of the Recognition of Sin), and as far into Purgatory (the representation of Christian Life), as he can go. Virgil leads Dante to Beatrice, who represents Divine Love, which is the only virtue that can finally unite the eternal soul with God.

As a lesson, teachers can ask students to create a storyboard that highlights these important symbolic people and places throughout Dante’s journey.


Example Allegory in Inferno

Dark Wood of ErrorThe mistakes that lead Dante and every person into a bad choice, or a bad situation in life.
Mount of JoyRepresents Heaven and the pinnacle for the spirit’s journey; this is where God is, and the Mountain is the spiritual journey to reach Him.
Three Beasts of WorldlinessThese three beasts represent worldly sins that have blocked Dante on his path of a righteous life: malice, fraud, violence, ambition, and lack of carnal self-restraint (incontinence).
HellHell is an allegory for Sin and its consequences. For Dante, it is the understanding that sin begets suffering, and if he continues on his path of Worldliness, his eternal separation from God will be inevitable.

Other allegorical symbols to include: Virgil, Beatrice, Dante himself.


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows examples of allegory in Dante's Inferno.


  1. Identify instances of allegory in the text.
  2. Depict and describe the example of allegory from the text on the left side.
  3. Depict and describe the reference to the larger issue or event on the right side.
Allegorical Reference - Worksheet

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