Dante – Dante acts as both the narrator and the main character of The Divine Comedy. Although it took Dante many years to complete Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, Dante writes the epic poems as if he has just returned from his divine journey. Dante meets hundreds of characters, sinners and saints, who treat Dante as a messenger who will report their words of warning and advice to his mortal contemporaries upon his return to Earth. In this way, Dante intends The Divine Comedy to serve as a primer on morality for the Middle Ages. The readers of the original Comedy would have recognized themselves–their spiritual, political, scientific, and social beliefs–in the poems. Thus, Dante uses Comedy as his religious and political platform from which he issues scathing denunciation and equally strong praise for the papal and imperial leaders of his time. To fully understand Dante’s prose, readers must first understand Dante, the political and religious man, and the historical context within which Dante grew and produced his most important poetic work.
Virgil – Beatrice sends Virgil to Earth to retrieve Dante and act as his guide through Hell and Purgatory. Since the poet Virgil lived before Christianity, he dwells in Limbo (Ante-Inferno) with other righteous non-Christians. As an author, Dante chooses the character, Virgil, to act as his guide because he admired Virgil’s work above all other poets and because Virgil had written of a similar journey through the underworld. Thus, Virgil’s character knows the way through Hell and can act as Dante’s knowledgeable guide while he struggles alongside Dante when they enter Purgatory together for the first time. As a spirit, Virgil suffers no physical pain and moves through Hell and Purgatory without effort. However, he must make arrangements for Dante to cross chasms, rivers, and walls because Dante retains his physical form. Dante’s physical presence gives clues, such as casting a shadow and displacing rocks, that indicate to the spirits that Dante is still alive. The fact that Dante is alive anger many of the spirits, especially the guardians of the underworld, so Virgil also serves as Dante’s protector as he warns Dante’s would-be foes that their journey was predestined in Heaven.
Beatrice – Although the real Beatrice died at a young age and there is no evidence that her relationship with Dante ever grew beyond passing conversation, Beatrice remained the object of Dante’s affection and desire throughout his life. Beatrice serves as Dante’s muse and inspiration. In The Divine Comedy, it is Beatrice who, out of love for the poet, initiates Dante’s journey because she believes that he has strayed from a righteous path and she thinks that this divine journey will save him from himself. Thus, she leaves her seat in Heaven to descend to Hell where she asks Virgil to serve as Dante’s guide. Beatrice meets Dante in Earthly Paradise (Purgatorio) and acts as his guide through Heaven. On many occasions during his travels through Hell and Purgatory, Dante believes that he can go no further but the promise of meeting Beatrice motivates him to continue. Beatrice amply rewards Dante for his travails when she leads him into Heaven and grows in radiance and beauty as they ascend toward God.