Dante Alighieri was born in Florence, Italy in 1265. In his life, he created two major books of poetry: Vita Nuova and The Comedy. The Comedy, which was later renamed The
Divine Comedy, is an epic poem broken down into three books in each of which Dante recounts his travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. The first installment of The Comedy, Dante's
Inferno, is an especially magnificent narrative. He narrates his descent and observation of Hell through the various circles and pouches. An excellent poet in his own right, admired much about
Virgil (also spelt Vergil), revering him to such an extent that he turned him into the guiding character, the teacher to Dante the pilgrim, in the Purgatory and Inferno. Dante borrowed from
Virgil much of his language, style, and content. While Dante improved upon Virgil's works in many respects, his changes in the theological content in particular, reveal the differences between the conceptions of the afterworld/underworld of the two authors' respective time periods. As
Erich Auerbach writes, with reference to Dante's extensively ordered otherworld, "Dante had no true precursors, except for the sixth book of the Aeneid."(Auerbach, Erich . p. 88). A large portion of Dante's Inferno is merely an expansion of one book (VI -the Underworld) of Virgil's
Aeneid. Though much of Dante's Hell is original, he seemed to use the Aeneid as a base and that which he did extract from the Aeneid, he carefully adapted for his own purposes and beliefs. In pursuing his Christian vision of the afterlife, Dante created an otherworld theoretically and doctrinally different from, yet still inescapably reminiscent of Virgil's Underworld. Dante, of course, structured his Hell to fit the confines and fundamentals of his Christian ideology, but still used The Aeneid as his foundation. Thus, in order to portray the Christian universe and to represent the afterworldly concepts of justice for one's actions during life, Dante looked to
Virgil's Aeneid for both, the inspiration to create and the tools to do so. Similarities between
Virgil's Underworld and Dante's Hell are quite noticeable to even the untrained eye.
The entrance or gate to Virgil's Underworld in the Aeneid marks a sharp division, as also found in The Inferno, between the land of the living and the land of the dead. A foreboding vestibule precedes the entrance to the Underworld, purposely there not ease any journey toward the heart of Hades, and help remind them that this is the afterlife they chose. Inhabiting Virgil's vestibule are the causes of death, incarnated into spiritual forms as agents of death (Virgil,
274-280), but they are not clearly seen forms, nor are any of the forms in both, Virgil's and
Dante's visions of Hell. All the Underworld in Dante's and Virgil's interpretations is portrayed in a shadowy, colorless environment to create the illusion of death and hopelessness.
"I am the way to the doleful city, I am the way into eternal grief, I am the way to a forsaken race.
Justice it was that moved my great Creator; Divine omnipotence created me, and highest wisdom joined with primal love.
Before me nothing but eternal things were made, and I shall last eternally. Abandon every hope, all you who enter."-reading on Vestibule Gate (Dante, 89).
Virgil places high importance on this vestibule to delineate clearly one main difference between the Underworld and the outside: the former has an unavoidably intangible, bodiless, and abstract
(nothing clearly defined) quality to it, compared to the latter's concrete, physical reality. The presence of the agents of death, most notably "Sleep the brother of Death" (Virgil, 278), are here to symbolize the transition from the world of life outside the vestibule, to a room full of the causes of death, and finally lead to the land of death itself (Hell itself). The vestibule can be considered to be a no-man's-land, your not