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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Dante's Inferno is Self-Insert Fanfiction

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

Like the title says, Dante’s Inferno is self-insert fanfiction; and no, you can’t change my mind.

Change my mind meme
You're welcome to try, but you won't succeed.

Before I get to the rest of this post, I need to say one thing. I am in no way shape or form shitting on fanfiction. Like I’ve said before, I am not a fanfic reader or writer, but I have many friends who read and write it. I have no issue with fanfiction or those who write it, but let’s talk about one of the most known pieces of classic literature, how it’s actually fanfiction, and make fun of it just a little.

Firstly, Dante is the main character of his story. For those who don’t know the plot of Inferno, it’s basically Dante traveling with the spirit of his favorite poet, Virgil, through the levels of hell on a quest to reach the spirit of Dante’s true love, Beatrice, in heaven.

Spongebob Squarepants writing
This is how I imagine Dante writing

Now, because this is Dante’s story, Beatrice is always described as the most beautiful woman in the world. Readers never meet her in Inferno, but she is in the end of Purgatorio and plays a leading role in Paradiso along with being the driving force behind Inferno. It should also be mentioned that Paradiso features Dante claiming her beauty grows to unparalleled heights the closer the pair gets to God.

As mentioned, the only other main character in Inferno is Dante’s favorite author of all time: Virgil. Dante adored this man. Honestly, these two are a better love story than Dante and Beatrice. You can’t tell me that Dante doesn’t hang on every word that Virgil says throughout Inferno. Just read one canto in this epic, and try to tell me Dante is not crushing on Virgil.

I hope that Dante got to meet his idol upon his death. And I hope they fell in love.

Let’s talk about the setting of hell now. As is known, Dante based each level on the seven deadly sins, the worst sins being further down and closer to Satan. But since this is Dante’s creation, he gets to decided which historical figures end up in hell, and in what circle.

Lust, the second level of hell, is the one that really grinds my gears. Nearly all the historical figures named in this level are women who unfortunately are known for the lovers they had in life. Notable figures include Cleopatra, a Pharaoh during a tumultuous time who did what she could to make strong alliances with other strong countries, and Helen of Troy, who was forced by the Gods to leave Sparta with Paris thus starting a war between the two nations. While there are men in this circle as well, Dante fixates on the women as if they are lesser beings for having sexual desires or being forced into loveless marriages for political advantages. History has done the women in this level dirty, and Dante is no help to them.

Disappointed, not surprised.
Disappointed, not surprised.

Honestly, SparkNotes says it best, “Dante the poet often portrays Dante the character as compassionate and sympathetic at the sight of suffering sinners, but Dante the poet chose to place them in Hell and devised their suffering.”

Dante has decided who goes where in hell, and what punishment they should suffer. While the punishments do tend to fit the crime, in some cases, Dante shows the roots of the deep-seeded patriarchy and racism of the world.

If you need another example, then let’s talk about the Pope chute. Dante thought that all Popes were guilty of committing simony, or the buying or selling of privileges; in this case, selling pardons to the public as a “way to get into heaven.”

To Dante, every Pope was guilty of simony. So whenever a Pope died, he would fall straight to the eighth level of hell, be stuck in the ground with only feet remaining visible, and be set on fire. The one Pope Dante speaks to in Inferno is berated by our author/main character because Dante is above what the Popes have done. And the only reason he keeps himself to using self-proclaimed mild language is because he does love the Church, just not any Pope that has ever existed though.

If you've seen the horror film "As Above So Below," you'll remember the car scene. The end of this scene is directly inspired by the Popes in "Inferno."

If you’re having a bad day, be glad you aren’t a Pope in Dante’s version of hell.

So, next time you talk about Dante’s Inferno, make sure you bring up that it’s self-insert fanfiction.

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