Literature Study – Dante’s Divine Comedy: Inferno

Dante is a risky piece of literature to study with 10 and 11 year olds.  There is much in there which I should thoroughly disapprove of exposing them to at their tender age.  And yet I have found myself drawn to the learning possibilities.

T11 reading Dante aloud to us
T11 reading Dante aloud to us

In the Inferno, Dante wrote about his views on Hell, some think as a way to expunge his life of the deeds he himself felt guilty of – his own search for peace and resolution from the turmoil continually going on inside him.  Others see this epic as a revenge of sorts, with Dante the poet seeking to bring punishment on those who have wronged him in his life time.

To our 20th century, politically correct sensibilities, there is much to draw breath at.  He is blunt in his appraisal of those he believed to be sinners and harsh punishments abound.  This is not a literature study for the sensitive child.  I don’t have any terribly sensitive children but I knew I would still need to tread carefully whilst moving my way through the Inferno, and be particularly aware of the impressibility and susceptibility of my children towards its content.

It had been useful last week to take a look at Botticelli’s interpretation of the Inferno as it led rather neatly into a general look at the Inferno as a whole.  We had read it a few months ago and I wanted to make sure the children recollected it fairly accurately before I immersed them in a passage study of Canto V.  This week was a quick recap and a simple overview of the Inferno.

I always like the children to hear at least some of the epic we study to be read out in the language in which it was written. Vocals can be heard here.  I also came across a silent movie shot in 1911 (!) which I had the children watch some of.  In addition to these resources, I had come across a grammar study using the Inferno as its basis.  The way it was set out was perfect for me to be able to do a review of the 1st third of the Comedy (the Inferno), without needing to reread it in its entirety.  The course can be found here.  It is a ten week course, but I decided to do it in a week verbally.  In fact it took three days and the children loved it!  Besides revising some grammar it triggered their memories again as to the content of the Inferno.

Next up was taking a look at some of the other representations of Dante’s Hell.  First, I showed them this picture of Dante’s world as he believed it looked:


After a ‘quick’ exchange of opinions on the whereabouts of everything and how our perceptions have changed today, I moved on to show them the various portrayals of Dante’s hell which have been created over the years.

All these activities had the main purpose of leading the children to their assignment for this week.  Namely that of creating their own model of Dante’s Inferno.  In the run up to this, I felt we may have bitten off more than we could chew.  At the beginning of the week I truly didn’t know if we would manage to finish it.  I am trying to move swiftly through topics this year, but without losing any of the depth of our studies.  Some weeks this is easier than others.  This was not one of those times.

I am blessed to have children who pretty much get on board with anything I suggest and, in the main, are excited at the prospect of most of our activities.  Somehow they see my vision and catch a hold of the energy required to create it.  And this week, it was this energy which was the driving force behind the project.  That and my insomnia giving me many hours of covering boxes with black paper (My contribution to the model!).  This was a huge assignment, and if I never see a shoe box and black paper again, it will be too soon.

That said, this has also been a fabulous assignment, which the children have maintained their excitement for from start to finish.  They designed each box themselves, found the materials and figures and built each circle of hell, one box at a time.  It took just under a week and we did very little else during that week (just maths and science).  I had created cards using Dante’s own words to describe certain elements of each circle and some of the main characters, to help them in their creating.  Through these cards, they became even more familiar with the words of Dante; through the diorama they became very familiar with each circle of hell and the sinner’s punishment associated with it and they also had a much deeper appreciation of its complexities and the type of mind that Dante must have had to have conceived such a place.  It was good to watch when they easily narrated each of the circles whilst giving their Granny a tour of their diorama.  This was a ridiculously complicated assignment and yet one I think they will never forget.  Worth it in the end.  Possibly.

Here it is.


Enjoy it for we shall be burning it at the week-end!  Tomorrow I will post close up pictures and explain how we came up with the ideas and how it was achieved – (just in case you also take an absurd notion to build it)

     Homegrown Learners  Highhill Homeschool 


  1. Oh my goodness, what an impressive project! Just in time for Halloween too, i.e. the theme of hell. I continue to be ever so impressed with what you and your children accomplish together.

  2. Wow – I am just floored! It is amazing how you bring complex literature to life and understanding with your kids. I can’t wait to see the close ups – though we won’t be replicating 🙂 (I’ll get in touch with you soon trying to help with document downloads)

  3. I love it! We’re doing medieval studies this year too, but I never thought of reading Inferno with M! Brilliant. I should dig my copy out- I remember enjoying it thoroughly when I read it. I love your kids’ diorama!

  4. Wow! That is AWESOME! So cool. How do you keep coming up with these ideas? Actually, I’m even more in awe of the execution. Getting round to putting the ideas into practice is where I mostly fall down! Enjoy your diorama bonfire!

  5. Your blog is filled with such good information! I read Dante’s Inferno in the 10th grade honors Literature class, I still remember it well.

  6. I think I’ll be watching for your tutorial to pin for later. That’s an awesome model for the Inferno.

  7. What an awesome project. I am so impressed!! We have burned a few craft projects in the past. It cuts down on storing them ~ LOL!
    Blessings, Dawn

  8. That does look like a lot of work. I don’t know much about Dante. Thank you for the overview and recommendation that it’s a better topic to study with older children.

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