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The work is called a "Comedy" because it begins in disaster and ends in happiness. It is written, not in the sustained loftiness of tragedy, but in the middle style, which lies between the highest, and the lowest. It is composed in the author's native Florentine. Elevated in many parts by exalted thought and abundance of Latinisms, it sinks at times into the plain vernacular. In the Middle Ages, the terms "tragedy" and "comedy" had no necessarily theatrical associations: the former meant the story of a downfall of a great personage; the latter the narrative of a happy escape from misery.
THE STRUCTURE OF HELL / INFERNO
The first structure of Inferno is the "Vestibule". This is so because it serves as an entrance into Hell proper. A gate bearing the inscription "Abandon every hope, all you who enter" leads into the Vestibule, where the indecisive are punished.
To enter Hell proper the river Acheron has to be crossed. It is ferried by the boatman Charon. The river, like the other structures to follow, is circular in shape. The "Limbo" or the first circle of Hell where the souls of virtuous non-Christians dwell follows the river. Limbo also houses a splendid castle where the greatest non-Christian thinkers dwell together with other famous historical figures.
Barring the way to the second circle is Minos. He judges each sinful soul and assigns its proper place of punishment in Hell. In the second circle the lustful are punished. In the next circle (third) the gluttons are punished and Cerberus, a three-headed, dog-like beast, guards it. The boundary of the fourth Circle is guarded by Plutus. In this circle the hoarders and the spendthrifts are punished.
The river Styx forms the Fifth Circle and in it are punished the wrathful and the slothful. Phlegyas is the boatman who takes you through the Styx. Across the Styx is the city of Dis whose gates are guarded by the Euries and the Gorgan. Inside the city walls lies the Sixth Circle where the Heretics are punished. The seventh circle, guarded by Minotaur is where the violent are punished. The seventh circle consists of the River Phlegethon, Wood of the suicides and The Burning Sand. The sinners in the River Phlegethon are guarded by the centaurs.
After the seventh circle comes a precipice at the base of which is the Eight Circle. The Eight Circle consists of ten Bolgia, joined to each other by an arching bridge. In each of these ten malebolge different types of sins are punished. In the first Bolgia are punished panders and seducers, in the second flatterers, in the third simonists, in the seventh thieves, in the eight deceivers, in the ninth sowers of devoured and in the tenth falsifiers.
After the Eight Circle comes the Pit of the Giants and it is followed by the Ninth Circle (Cocytus) which is the last one. Cocytus is divided into Caina, Antenora, Ptolomea and Judecca. In Caina are punished those who were traitors to their kindred. Antenora holds those who betrayed their country, city or political party. In Ptolomea lie those sinners who murdered their guests. And in Judecca suffer those souls that betrayed their lords.
After Judecca comes the body of Lucifer itself, embedded in earth. In his three mouths are punished mankindís three worst sinners : Judas Iscariot, Marcus Brutus and Caius Cassius Longinus. The thighs of Lucifer lie at the center of the earth. And the legs are lying in a stony passage. This passage leads to an opening onto the earth's surface. It opens out at the base of Mount Purgatory in the Southern Hemisphere.