The Guardians of the Inferno
Dante's Inferno is one of the best written works of all time because it was written as an
allegory inside an excellent story. A key part of this allegory was how Dante used
different guardians in the various circles of hell. These guardians were used to symbolize
the punishments of the sinners.
Minos is the guardian of Circle II, the circle of the Lustful. He symbolizes an accusing
personality because his job is to give punishments to the sinners. The bodies of the sinners
confess the sins automatically, and that shows the sinners know everything about
themselves when it is too late to repent. Minos is important because he is used to stress
that none of the sinners can doubt which sins they have committed, and that the crime will
receive a matching punishment. The lustful were carried away by their passions in their
previous lives, and therefore they are thrown about by a black wind. Dante considers lust
to be the highest sin because it is mutually committed to the pleasure of both parties.
Cerberus is the guardian of Circle III, the circle of the Gluttons. Cerberus is meant to
portray the image of uncontrolled appetite. In mythology, he was known to devour
people who approached hell, and therefore is a glutton himself. However, being a glutton,
he must surrender himself to his appetite. His appetite just overtakes him when Dante
throws dirt in Cerberus' mouth, and the poets are allowed to enter the circle. Cerberus is
an example of how everything must submit to the glutton's appetite, including his soul.
This is a dark sin because they now worship food instead of God, and this is reciprocated
by the rain, which belies the jolly nature of gluttons and gives them dark temperaments.
Gluttony is a sin which involves one person, and it is more of a selfish sin, but the
gluttonous are alone because they always ate alone.
Pluto is the guardian of Circle IV, the circle of Misers and Spendthrift. Pluto is meant
to symbolize riches, as he is the god of wealth that springs from soil in ancient mythology.
This is appropriate because he guards those who hoarded money and those who spent it
foolishly. This is a different type of appetite, as these people hate each other because
everybody wants to have all the money or spend all of it. These people conflict with each
other, and their mutual hatred for each other is symbolized by their rolling rocks against
each other. They actually give the punishments to each other. This is also a selfish sin,
but it is also hating others who are also selfish. This is why the Misers and Spendthrifts
are always battling, with Pluto watching them.
Phlegyas is the guardian of Circle V, the circle of the Wrathful. The circle is really the
Styx river, and Phlegyas is the ferryman. Phlegyas is the symbol of supreme rage, as he
burned Apollo's temple after his daughter Coronis fell in love with him. There are two
types of wrath, active rage and silent sulleness. The raging ones fight on top of the marsh
and the sullen ones just sigh deep in the mud. They symbolize the worse sin yet, the
hatred for all of man. The raging ones want to harm people, and therefore they hit each
other. The sullen ones are stuck in the bottom because they bottled up their wrath for
others inside themselves, and they withdrew into a black sulkiness. Dante is attacked by
Filippo Argenti, and he begins to feel wrathful towards his old enemy. For the first time
there is no sympathy for these people, as they hated others. Phlegyas is a good example of
how the guardian can portray the people he guards.
The Furies are the guardians of Circle VI, the Heretics. They are the avenging
goddesses who went after great sinners. They symbolize remorse that does not lead to
repentance. This is how the Heretics are. They deeply feel remorse for the fact they
interpreted things outside the judgment of the Church, preferring their own judgment
against the Church's. However, they still do not change their ways. The fitting
punishment is that they would be buried in iron tombs and surrounded by fire. However,
none of the fire is inside the tomb. This shows how the outside appearance of holiness is
different from the inside one of hereticism. The iron symbolizes the unwillingness to bend
towards the church's decisions. They are sinners who will never repent, so the Furies will
always be after them.
The Centaurs and the Minotaur are the guardians of the first ring of Circle VII, the ring
of the violent against neighbors. They are the symbol of man with animal behavior, since
they are part men, part beasts. This describes the violent against the neighbors, as they
experience passions for shedding blood, and therefore their punishment is to wallow in the
river of blood, the Phlegethon river. The blood symbolizes all the blood that they have
caused to fall, and now they must be surrounded continuously to remind them of how they
got here. The Centaurs and Minotaur killed many people and they are the bloodthirsty
guardians of this ring.
The Harpies of the guardians of the second ring of Circle of VII, the ring of the violent
against themselves. Harpies are another breed of animal-humans. They are symbol of the
will to destroy things, which the suicides had to have in order to kill themselves. Suicide
is to get rid of one's body, and it insults it. Therefore, they are not even allowed to have
their own bodies in Hell. They hated themselves and had no life energy, so the trees are
dead and withered. These people took away the gift of life that God gave them, and they
will not get it back. This connects back to the Harpies because the Harpies also wanting
to destroy everything.
Geryon is the guardian of Circle VIII, the Malbowges. He has a just man's face,
beautiful color, the paws of a beast, and the sting in his serpent's tail. This mixture
misguides in the front and attacks in the back. He is the symbol of Fraud. From here on,
the sins are darker and darker. First sex, then religious offices, civil offices, language,
ownership, counsel, authority, psychic influence are all perverted.
The Giants are the guardians of Circle IX, home of Cocytus and the traitors. The Giants
symbolize the tainting of the heart that have not yet been uncovered. They are only blocks
of blood and flesh that can commit only treachery because they don't have hearts. Nimrod
is a stupid braggart; Ephialtes is senseless rage; and Antaeus is brainless vanity. These
symbolize how the whole rational thinking of man and nature is overturned in hell.
Lucifer is the symbol of ultimate treachery because he eats the treacherous Cassius,
Brutus, and Judas. Lucifer is crying and he is not active, but rather extremely passive. He
is the symbol of anything that is Anti-Christianity. His wings are symbol of a distorted
angelic properties - he is an extremely distorted version of an angel with 2 arms and 4
wings. He is not powerful, but is subject to God's punishment, and he is the punisher of
As can be seen, the guardians of Hell symbolize the characteristic oand punishments of
the sinners. It must be kept in mind that this story was used to bring about repentance of
the soul because of it was only a vision. Once the soul sees the real Hell, it is too late to
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