First, check out this awesome site and explore the Inferno through multimedia, interactive text and images.
The Divine Comedy is a poem by Dante Alighieri, written in the first person, addressing Dante’s journey through the three realms of the dead, lasting from the night before Good Friday to the Wednesday after Easter in the spring of 1300. The Roman poet Virgil guides him through Hell and Purgatory; Beatrice, Dante’s ideal woman, guides him through Heaven.
Allegorically, the Inferno (Hades) represents the Christian soul seeing sin for what it really is. There are three beasts that represent the types of sin: the self-indulgent, the violent, and the malicious.These three types of sin also provide the three main divisions of Dante’s Hell: Upper Hell, containing four indulgent sins (Lust, gluttony, avarice, anger); Circle 7 for the sins of violence; and Circles 8 and 9 for the sins of malice (fraud and treachery). There is also Limbo, which contains the virtuous pagans who were not sinful but were ignorant of Christ; and Circle 6, containing the heretics who contradicted the doctrine and confused the spirit of Christ. [Source]
There is significant scholarly investigation that suggests correlations between Dante’s conceptions of hell, paradise, and the afterlife, and 13th century Islamic philosophies. Dante’s Europe had frequent contact with the literature and ideas of the Muslim world. On the other hand, there is also a current movement (as of early 2012) to universally ban The Divine Comedy for its portrayal of Mohammed in Hades. “Gherush 92, a human rights organisation which acts as a consultant to UN bodies on racism and discrimination,” says that “Dante’s epic is ‘offensive and discriminatory’ and has no place in a modern classroom, said Valentina Sereni, the group’s president. Divided into three parts – Hell, Purgatory and Heaven – the poem consists of 100 cantos, of which half a dozen were marked out for particular criticism by the group. It represents Islam as a heresy and Mohammed as a schismatic and refers to Jews as greedy, scheming moneylenders and traitors, Miss Sereni told the Adnkronos news agency. ‘The Prophet Mohammed was subjected to a horrific punishment – his body was split from end to end so that his entrails dangled out, an image that offends Islamic culture,’ she said.”