Dante is here conceived as author and principal character, living his own vision of the after-life. Many of the characters met by him on his path are Florentine, from both sides of the civil war he lived at the end of the XIII century, Guelphes supporting the Papacy and Guibellins supporting the Holy Roman Empire. They are placed in different circles of the Inferno, in the light of the gravity ot their own sins, according to Dante’s personal opinion.
The Inferno’s circles form a spiral progressively leading toward the center of the Earth were Lucifer had fallen at the beginning of time. This route to the deepest part of Earth matches with a progressive engagement and concern of Dante as explorer of the Underworld. He is the creator of this fantastic literary realm as a deus-ex-machina, who can judge the fallen human nature. On the other hand he is a sinner of his own and his mistakes are going to bring him to the solitude of the exile.
The Inferno is described as a resonating reversed cone whose deep point is Lucifer. The concentric circles of the Inferno are ordered following a progressive increase of sin. The punishments become more and more horrifying, culminating in the center of the Earth, where Lucifer is prisoner in the frozen lake Cocytus and his mouth blocks the worse of traitors.
The different damned souls are illuminated by the passage of Dante, offering them a sort of provisional stage. Bestial appetites and violence acted in life and suffered in the afterlife are described by Dante with vivid and realistic accent, with a vocabulary that mix the “vulgaris” Italian with slang expressions and onomatopoeic words, creating a plastic and expressive new language.
The landscape painted by Dante inside the descending spiral includes contrasting areas, fabulous and apocalyptic visions as the Dark Wood where he has lost himself, the Upper Hell, The city of Dis, the Rivers Achaeron and Styx, the lake Cocytus where Lucifer himself is prisoner, the Gate of Hell, The Malebolge (Evil Ditches) and a continuous flash-back to the medieval prosperous Florence, full of social tensions and change.