"in she comes like Virgil in Hell, with her little Dante trotting after"

The Divine Comedy is a three part epic poem by Italian Dante Alighieri (1265-1321).  It tells the story of Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, guided by the Greek poet Virgil.  Their journey represents the rejection of sin, Christian life and the eventual arrival of the soul with God.

The first part of the poem, Inferno, describes a mediaeval Hell with nine circles of suffering located within the earth.  At each stage, sinners receive a poetic justice; for example, fortune tellers are made to walk forwards with their heads on backwards.  In each circle Dante places figures recognisable from literature, mythology and history, so that Helen of Troy and her lover Paris are punished for their lust whilst Alexander the Great suffers for his violence.

The poem is recognised as one of the great works of world literature, and gave us the quote 'Abandon hope, all ye who enter here'.  The line appears early in the poem as part of an inscription on the gates of Hell, the complete text of which reads:

“Through me you pass into the city of woe:

Through me you pass into eternal pain:

Through me among the people lost for aye.

Justice the founder of my fabric mov’d:

To rear me was the task of power divine,

Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.

Before me things create were none, save things

Eternal, and eternal I endure.

All hope abandon ye who enter here.”