Italy's Political and Cultural Influence on the Inferno

In Dante's time, the important issue of Italy was who would have ultimate control, the Papacy or the Empire. There were two major political factions: the Guelphs, who supported the Papacy, and the Ghibellines, who supported the Empire. The animosity between the two factions became particularly intense in the city of Florence, where Dante lived.

The Guelphs
- This group supported the Papacy for having ultimate control over Italy.
- The members of this party tended to be merchants and members of the middle class.

The Ghibellines:
- They supported the rule of the Emperor over Italy.
- The members of this party tended to be noblemen (most likely those who would benefit from the Emperor having ultimate power.

Eventually the Guelphs defeated the Ghibellines, but they then began to fight amongst themselves. By the year 1300 (the Comedie was written from 1308-1321) the Guelphs were split into the White and Black Guelphs, with the Whites still supporting the Papacy but the Blacks now opposed to any papal influence, largely due to the actions of Pope Boniface VIII (who many felt was corrupt). In 1302 the Black Guelphs took control, and the White Guelphs, Dante included, were exiled from Florence.

This intense political atmosphere, and Dante's resulting banishment from his home city, are reflected in the Inferno. Many of the characters whom Dante speaks to in Hell are different political figures from his time, and it seems that how deep in Hell (and therefore how intense the punishment is) is directly proportional to how much Dante disliked them. Therefore, it is clear to see that the political culture of Dante's time had direct influence on the Inferno.