St. Augustine and Virgil’s Influence in Dante’s Inferno

July 25, 2019 Religion

Achieving an epiphany after a long, treacherous journey may seem like content fit for mythological legends. However, the works of St. Augustine, Virgil, and Dante share similar themes and have important relevance to Christianity. Virgil’s The Aeneid follows the story of Aeneas who encounter hardships and a trip to the underworld to maintain his destiny of establishing Rome. Dante’s Inferno follows a spiritually destitute Dante through the nine rings of hell with the purpose of realizing simplicity and reuniting with his wife in heaven. Finally, St. Augustine’s Confessions are an autobiography that details the life of its author in search of a spiritual awakening. An exploration of Dante’s Inferno comprises inspirations and influences from the other two pieces of literature extensively in setting and subject matter.

Virgil’s Influence

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Virgil’s The Aeneid influences Dante’s work through a definition of a hell that is composed of multiple stages and punishment intensities for its unfortunate inhabitants. Dante’s Inferno reveals a journey through the nine rings of helL.

Through his journey, Dante identifies different parts in hell where people are suffering from different punishments based on their sins. In this hell, he journeys more in-depth into the rings to the pit that holds the most villainous characters in religious history such as Judas and Lucifer.

Comparably, Virgil had tackled this narrative in his works, which were created before Dante’s. Virgil’s The Aeneid shows Aeneas travel through different sections of hell such as the Field of Mourning where adulterous suffered a horrid punishment.

As they travel deeper into the underworld, Aeneas and Sybil come across a fortress where Rhadamanthus punishes the evilest people with intense torture.

Virgil’s conception of the underworld has recognizable bearings on Dante’s interpretation of hell. The structural and operational similarity is an affirmation of Virgil’s The Aeneid’s influence on Dante’s Inferno.

Moreover, Virgil’s narrative necessitates the assistance of a spiritual guide, a trope that Dante incorporated into the Inferno. The Aeneid’s protagonist, Aeneas, follows a Sybil also referred to as a priestess through the underworld.

Similarly, Dante follows the ghost of a deceased poet called Virgil.

One significant similarity between the guides is their wisdom and strength.

They are decisive and very powerful such that they can travel around hell with little culmination to themselves and their respective counterpart. Dante’s incorporation of Virgil is an ironical influence of Virgil’s clarification of the Sybil.

St. Augustine’s Influence

St. Augustine’s Confessions also has a notable influence on the subject matter shown in Dante’s Inferno. Unlike Virgil’s work, these two pieces of literature detail colossal ramifications of religion. Dante and St. Augustine’s works are journeys to spiritual clarity.

Dante’s Inferno originates with a lost Dante wandering in a dark forest.

However, he is unable to reach the light prompting him to turn back

Minervino 3 where he meets a guide, who promises to help him achieve righteousness and see his wife in heaven. Similarly; St. Augustine travels the world without much purpose other than engaging in materialistic pleasures such as sexual exploration.

However, upon reaching the garden in Milan, he achieves clarity and conversion (St. Augustine and Pusey 106). Dante also achieves a similar epiphany upon exiting hell into the earth. This understanding suggests that St. Augustine’s Confessions had a profound ramification on Dante’s Inferno.


St. Augustine and Virgil’s works of literature had a profound influence on Dante’s work. Virgil’s The Aeneid developed a conceptualization of hell that Dante later adapted to his work. The visualization of a portioned hell that caters to sins differently based on their intensity appears prominently in either author’s work. On the other hand, St. Augustine’s Confessions has a important influence on Dante’s subject matter of a journey to redemption and eventual spiritual empowerment. Therefore, St. Augustine and Virgil’s works were crucial in shaping the acclaimed Dante’s Inferno.


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