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Inferno | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Written in the early 14th century, Dante Alighieri's Inferno is the first part of his three-part epic poem, The Divine Comedy. Followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso, Inferno describes the character Dante's journey through the nine circles of Hell.

Dante's Inferno is without a doubt one of the most influential works of literature ever written. It helped to unify the Italian language, and has served as inspiration for countless artists over the last seven centuries including Botticelli, Rodin, and Dalì. Its influence can be seen in innumerable works of art, literature, music, cinema, television, and even computer games.

1. Dante plays the role of God and places some of his real-life enemies in Inferno's Hell.

Dante belonged to a political party that fought against the expansion of the pope's powers. In Inferno, Dante takes on the role of God to judge Pope Boniface VIII for his corruption in seeking to expand his earthly powers. The pope and several other figures from Florentine politics have special places in Hell in Dante's Inferno.

2. Dante disappeared while writing Inferno.

Two political factions, the Guelfs (those who supported the Pope) and Ghibellines (those who supported the Holy Roman Emperor), struggled for control over Florence, Italy, and Dante was eventually exiled for aligning himself with the losing side. During his exile, Dante abstained from politics, and his exact whereabouts are unclear. He may have spent time in Bologna, Padua, and Paris. Inferno was completed during these missing years before he settled in the city of Ravenna, Italy, to finish the trilogy.

3. A woman named Beatrice was Dante's muse for writing The Divine Comedy.

Beatrice, who symbolizes faith, hope, and charity, appears for the first time near the beginning of Inferno when Virgil tells Dante that he has been sent by Beatrice. It is believed that Dante only met the real Beatrice (Bice di Folco Portinari) twice in his life, but he was so taken by her that she became his muse for writing The Divine Comedy and appears in the poem as Dante's bridge to salvation. Dante was devastated by her death at the age of 24, but he immortalized her in his poem forever.

4. Dante is often considered the father of modern Italian.

Dante chose to write The Divine Comedy in the vernacular, the language spoken by ordinary people, rather than Latin. Most literature of the 14th century was written in Latin, so Dante's choice was unusual. In his early 1300s treatise De vulgari eloquentia, he pushed for the establishment of Italian as a literary language as a way to unite the divided Italian territories. He may not have succeeded, but The Divine Comedy established Dante as the father of modern Italian.

5. The popular children's series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, has allusions to Dante's Inferno.

American author Daniel Handler, commonly known for his work under pen name Lemony Snicket, makes reference to Dante's The Divine Comedy in his book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Beatrice, believed to be Dante's real-life muse and fictional guide in part of The Divine Comedy, is referenced in the dedication of each book by Snicket. Snicket's fictional Beatrice and Dante's real-life muse Beatrice also share a tragic backstory as both are deceased as the stories open.

6. A board game version of Inferno allows players to battle Lucifer.

The board game, aptly titled "Dante's Inferno," was released by Twilight Creations in 2003 and, according to reviewers, is reminiscent of the strategy game "Settlers of Catan."

"Dante's Inferno" is a complex game in which players rescue sinners and eventually descend to the ninth level of Hell to defeat Lucifer. If it sounds like a game that takes a long time to play, that's because it is. As one reviewer wrote, "[It's] one hell of a game, but it can take an eternity to play!"

Another, less impressed reviewer wrote, "Abandon excitement, all ye who play here!"

7. A video game based on Dante's Inferno raised controversy with the International Nanny Association.

Released in 2010 for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, Dante's Inferno is an epic third-person adventure game that takes Dante on a mission through the nine circles of Hell as he seeks to rescue his precious Beatrice. The game was a hit with players and critics, with one reviewer calling the depiction of Hell "impressively constructed."

The game's publisher, Electronic Arts, came under fire, however, when it was discovered that there was a mission in the game called "Bad Nanny," which rewarded players for killing unbaptized children. The International Nanny Association called for the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to remove "Bad Nanny" as a mission, but the request was denied, as the ESRB can only rate games, not censor them.

8. Some ancient scholars thought the first circle of Hell measured 87.5 miles across.

Dante's description of Hell inspired artists, scholars, mathematicians, and others of the Renaissance to draw maps of Hell in great detail.

One notable representation of Hell came from a Florentine contemporary of Dante's, Antonio Manetti. He calculated the first circle of Hell, Limbo, to measure a precise 87.5 miles across. The famous Italian astronomer Galileo even entered the debate over Hell's dimensions when he confirmed Manetti's calculations during a series of lectures in 1588.

9. Though it's unknown when he was born, some believe Dante may have been a Gemini.

Dante's exact birthdate is not known; however, many experts suspect that The Divine Comedy includes autobiographical clues that can be used to deduce he was born between May 14-31 of 1265.

In Paradiso, a volume of The Divine Comedy, Dante writes, "As I revolved with the eternal twins, I saw revealed, from hills to river outlets, the threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious." The Gemini constellation is associated with the twins Castor and Pollux of Greek mythology. During the period of Dante's life, people born between approximately May 11 and June 11 would have been Geminis.

10. In addition to being a writer, Dante Alighieri was also a pharmacist.

Alighieri was heavily involved in Florentine politics and was elected to City Council in 1295. However, a law that year required public officials to be enrolled in the Corporazioni di Arti e Mestieri, a type of trade school. Alighieri pursued the pharmaceutical field in part because he could sell his books out of apothecary shops, which often served as bookstores.

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