Inferno

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Themes and Colors
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
Paganism vs. Christianity Theme Icon
Individual Fame Theme Icon
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Inferno, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Love Theme Icon

Love may not be quite as powerful as the word in the Inferno, but it is still a strong force in Dante's epic. Dante is allowed to make his amazing journey through hell because of how much Beatrice, Dante's beloved who is now in heaven, loves him. She left heaven because of her love for Dante, to tell Virgil to guide Dante through hell. And as Dante traverses through hell, he is continually motivated to continue his frightening journey by some form of love, whether for Beatrice, Virgil, or God. In addition, the inscription above the entrance to hell specifies that hell was created by God, whom it describes as "the power, and the unsearchably / high wisdom, and the primal love supernal," (3.5-6). God's original love is thus in large part the primal organizing force behind hell and the entire plot of Dante's poem.

While Dante champions these forms of sacred love, his poem also provides examples of various perversions of love. A love of wealth and power, for example, drives many souls to commit terrible sins. The second circle of hell contains those sinners who gave into excessive lust, including the memorable Francesca da Rimini. These sinners follow lust and desire, rather than chaste love like that between Dante and Beatrice. Dante also includes Sodomites in his vision of hell, a category including (but not limited to) those who engage in homosexual acts. Also in Dante's hell is Myrrha, a figure of Greek mythology famous for her incestuous desire for her father. And while Myrrha loved her father excessively and in the wrong way, hell is also filled with those who did not love their own families or nations enough, as the traitors in the ninth circle attest.

Many of the sinners in Dante's hell thus pursued some kind of bad love or desire instead of the one love that, for Dante, matters most: the love of God. By contrast, Dante's love for Beatrice is virtuous, because it leads him closer to God's love, rather than further away from it.

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Love Quotes in Inferno

Below you will find the important quotes in Inferno related to the theme of Love.
Canto 2 Quotes

Beatrice am I, who thy good speed beseech;
Love that first moved me from the blissful place
Whither I'd fain return, now moves my speech.

Related Characters: Beatrice (speaker), Beatrice
Page Number: 2.70-72
Explanation and Analysis:

Virgil recounts the story of how he was led to Dante, during which he came into contact with the divine inspiration for the tale: Beatrice. Beatrice explained to Virgil how her love for Dante motivated her to leave heaven and speak with this intermediary.

This passage establishes a chain reaction of affection toward Dante that has saved him from his personal and spiritual crisis. Virgil may be his direct guide, but their relationship is actually ordained through Beatrice, herself an emissary of the Virgin Mary and God. Her line “Love that first moved me” may pass over the reader, but it should not be taken lightly. Beatrice has chosen personal affection as her central motivation—as opposed to a moral or strictly religious justification. The Divine Comedy is thus, in an odd way, a love story between Dante and Beatrice—in which she plays the role of both muse and distant guide for the speaker-protagonist.

Her lines here also help clarify the way the three different divine planes will operate. Although Virgil cannot ascend into heaven because he is pagan, Beatrice can evidently move between the realms. Yet at the same time, she desires not to do so, saying “the blissful place/ Whither I’d fain return,” implies that she feels a natural gravitational pull toward heaven. Thus while blessed beings may indeed move between the realms, the text demonstrates that they have a natural desire to remain in heaven—which only underlines the extent of her love for Dante, as she left heaven for his sake.

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Canto 3 Quotes

Justice moved my great maker; God eternal
Wrought me: the power, and the unsearchably
High wisdom, and the primal love supernal.

Related Characters: Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, and Jacopo Rusticucci (speaker)
Page Number: 4-6
Explanation and Analysis:

These words are the inscription on the gates of hell. They glorify God for the wise and just way he crafted the doorway.

Throughout the Divine Comedy, Dante continually reasserts God’s omnipresence—constantly showing how he has positively affected each component of the mystical universe. The gates proclaim first how he was moved by “justice,” indicating that the division of hell, purgatory, and heaven stems from firm moral systems that give each person his or her correct end. Next, they allude to the “power” and “high wisdom,” thus combining the values of strength and intelligence that would allow God to have an idea and will it into existence.

Although these are expected qualities to attribute to God, the gates also significantly append the phrase “primal love.” This focus on love recalls how Beatrice is motivated to aid Dante, just as Dante is primarily inspired by his love for her in return. That the doors speak first of justice but then transition into love speaks to how this quality undergirds much of the spiritual and narrative meaning in the Inferno. Dante has crafted a unique worldview and religious schema in which love for and from God is placed at the center of the text—despite the seeming disconnect between love and the often cruel, excessive punishments of Hell.

Canto 5 Quotes

Love, that so soon takes hold in the gentle breast,
Took this lad with the lovely body they tore
From me; the way of it leaves me still distrest.

Love, that to no loved heart remits love's score,
Took me with such great joy of him, that see!
It holds me yet and never shall leave me more.

Love to a single death brought him and me.

Related Characters: Francesca da Rimini (speaker), Paolo Malatesta
Page Number: 5.100-106
Explanation and Analysis:

Now in the second circle of hell, Dante listens to the tale of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta. Francesca explains that love bound the couple together, but also caused them to sin.

This passage develops and complicates the theme of love seen in Dante’s relationships with Beatrice and with God. Whereas up to this point “love” has been identified as the motivating factor for Dante’s quest for salvation—and even the main foundation for all divine action—here it becomes a negative force. Francesca shows how this transition may occur subtly, for it first "takes hold in the gentle breast,” employing a calming tone and appealing image. The “gentle breast” becomes the “lovely body,” yet instead of offering a nurturing environment for love, it is instead taken hold of and crippled by the same force. The following lines play with the images of taking and holding to corroborate this dual nature of love: Though love may take away from others, it is also bound intensely to Francesca. It is something that severs people precisely in the act of keeping them close.

When Francesca adds, “Love to a single death brought him and me,” she portrays simultaneously the benefits and detriments of this emotion. For while it may have brought them the “death” confined to Hell, the emphasis of the sentence falls on the modifier “single”—thus stressing less their fate and more the way that they were bound together in it. Thus Dante is careful to avoid any stark judgement—positive or negative—on the behavior of these lovers. Though the poem may place them in contrast with the more spiritual love of Beatrice or God, it also generates a certain pathos for these sinning characters. Their actions, the text affirms, are reasonable and even have a certain poetic beauty (hence their lasting fame among Dante's many characters).