Written by Dante Alighieri Translated by Henry Francis Cary, M.A.
Illustrated by Gustave Dore Edited by Henry C. Walsh, A.M.
Restored for the web from the original 1800's text by Kevin Kelm
Thanks to Don Harrington for lending the original text


This translation of Dante's Inferno is presented exactly as it was published circa 1887 by Henry Altemus Publishing (now believed to be defunct). Some spellings and language are not common anymore, and may seem outright wrong (some may be legitimate typesetting errors), but I'm presenting everything exactly as I found it. Gustave Dore is widely known to be one of if not the best, most prolific lithograph artists, ever.

Clicking on any of the small engravings in the text will give you a full-screen version of that image in another browser window (where supported).

Because the subject matter is challenging, I've used a larger font for the text to aid readability.

To the best of my knowledge, this work in its entirety is released to the public domain.

Click here to move to the first chapter----> Canto I

DANTE was born in Florence in the year 1265, His father, Alighiero degli Alighieri belonged to one of the noble families of Florence. The poet was christened Durante, which, according to the Italian custom, was endearingly abbreviated to Dante. The history of his early years is not very well known; he had for a tutor the celebrated Brunetto Latini, and it is the general opinion that he studied at Bologna. Certain it is that he was deeply versed in the learning of his age-- in history, philosophy and theology, besides music and the liberal arts. He early showed signs of a rare genius, and also, if we may believe Boccaccio, of an amorous disposition. At the age of nine he is said to have fallen in love with Beatrice, whom he has so celebrated. She was the daughter of Folio Portinari, a Florentine noble. His passion for her seems to have been of the chaste and Platonic kind, according to the autobiography of his youth, the Vita Nuova, a mixture of prose and mystic poetry. Beatrice died at the age of twenty-six, and Dante was induced to marry Gemma, of the noble family of the Donati. His life with her was anything but happy, and he finally separated from her after she had borne him six children.

Italy at this time was distracted between the factions of the Guelfs, or partisans of the pope, and the Ghibellines, the adherents of the emperor. Dante belonged to the Guelf party, which after many revolutions had got the upper hand in Florence, and had completely defeated the Ghibellines in the battles of Campaldino and Caprona, in both of which actions Dante had distinguished himself. In 1300 he was appointed one of the priori, or supreme magistrates of Florence. But prosperity was fatal to the Guelfs: they became torn by internal dissensions, and under the names of Bianchi and Neri, or Whites and Blacks, they continually fought against each other. To put an end to these dissensions, which were- destroying the Guelfs, Charles of Anjou was called to Florence to act as mediator. He favored the Neri and banished the Bianchi, whose quarrel Dante had espoused, and who sent him as an ambassador to Pope Boniface VIII. to request his protection against the Neri. During Dante's absence he was condemned by the Neri, in 1302, to two years' banishment and the payment of a large fine, and a few months later he was condemned to be burned alive if he should ever fall into the power of the Florentine community. The poet now left the Guelfs and joined the Ghibelline party. In 1304 a great fire destroyed a large portion of Florence and gave Dante and the Bianchi an opportunity of attacking the city; the attack failed, however, and Dante, in despair, took up his abode in Verona, where he found a generous patron in Albunio della Scala, prince of Verona. About this time he had written the greater part of his Commedia, which he had probably begun before his banishment, and which was completed about 1312. From Verona, Dante went to Paris, in order to improve his knowledge in theology, and he disputed in the schools with great ability. About this time he wrote a pathetic letter to Florence, in which he implored a revocation of his sentence, but in vain.

In 1308, Henry VII. was raised to the empire, and prepared to march into Italy. Dante attached himself to his interests, and wrote to all the potentates of Italy, and to the Italian people generally, a letter in favor of the emperor. In consequence of this letter a decree was issued in Florence which irremissibly banished Dante from his country. The unfortunate issue of Henry's attempt in Italy and the repulse which he met at Florence, together with his death, in 1313, deprived Dante of all hopes of re-establishment. He roved about Italy, a lonely exile, and finally found a welcome at Ravenna, where he was kindly received by Guido Novella da Polenta, the lord of that place, who was a liberal patron of letters. When a quarrel broke out between Ravenna and Venice, Dante was sent by Polenta as an ambassador to negotiate peace with the Venetians, but so enraged were they that they would not admit him to an audience. The fatigue of the journey and the mortification of the slight put upon him threw Dante into a fever, which terminated his life, soon after his return to Ravenna, in September, 1321. Guido gave him an honorable burial in the church of the Minorites, and himself pronounced the funeral oration.

When a century had passed after Dante's death, Florence began to be ashamed of the injustice it had done him. In 1429 the Florentines applied to Ravenna for his remains, and again in the sixteenth century, but without success. The city which exiled him when living has never held his bones. Florence was obliged to satisfy itself with the empty honor of raising a monument to Dante in the church of Santa Croce, which was opened to the public in 1830. The Divina Commedia exemplifies Dante's-- and, indeed, the Christian-- idea of the genesis and development of good and evil. The Inferno, which is presented to the reader from the text of Dante's greatest translator, treats of the corruption of the will. It teaches that the germ of all sin lies in the substitution of self for God; the various punishments to which the different sinners are subjected are but external symbols of many phases of sinful self-consciousness. Man is free, and himself holds the measures of his doom: each soul creates for itself its own hell by allying itself with sin. This teaching of the old mystic is directly opposed to the materialistic thought of our day, and to that of many of our modern poets of Goethe, for instance, whose Faust allies himself with the incarnation of sin and makes the devil the instrument of his salvation. Dante's teaching will, however, be found to accord with that of One greater than Goethe who came "to take away the sin of the world," not to nourish it as an instrument of man's salvation. Christ, when tempted by Satan and offered the good of the world, rejected his alliance and put the evil tempter to flight.

Canto I