He symbolizes an accusing personality because his job is to give punishments to the sinners. The bodies of the sinners confess the sins automatically, and that shows the sinners know everything about themselves when it is too late to repent. Minos is important because he is used to stress that none of the sinners can doubt which sins they have committed, and that the crime will receive a matching punishment. The lustful were carried away by their passions in their previous lives, and therefore they are thrown about by a black wind. Dante considers lust to be the highest sin because it is mutually committed to the pleasure of both parties.
Cerberus is the guardian of Circle III, the circle of the Gluttons. Cerberus is meant to portray the image of uncontrolled appetite. In mythology, he was known to devour people who approached hell, and therefore is a glutton himself. However, being a glutton, he must surrender himself to his appetite. His appetite just overtakes him when Dante throws dirt in Cerberus’ mouth, and the poets are allowed to enter the circle. Cerberus is an example of how everything must submit to the glutton’s appetite, including his soul.
This is a dark sin because they now worship food instead of God, and this is reciprocated by the rain, which belies the jolly nature of gluttons and gives them dark temperaments. Gluttony is a sin which involves one person, and it is more of a selfish sin, but the gluttonous are alone because they always ate alone. Pluto is the guardian of Circle IV, the circle of Misers and Spendthrift. Pluto is meant to symbolize riches, as he is the god of wealth that springs from soil in ancient mythology.
This is appropriate because he guards those who hoarded money and those who spent it foolishly. This is a different type of appetite, as these people hate each other because everybody wants to have all the money or spend all of it. These people conflict with each other, and their mutual hatred for each other is symbolized by their rolling rocks against each other. They actually give the punishments to each other. This is also a selfish sin, but it is also hating others who are also selfish. This is why the Misers and Spendthrifts are always battling, with Pluto watching them.
Phlegyas is the guardian of Circle V, the circle of the Wrathful. The circle is really the Styx river, and Phlegyas is the ferryman. Phlegyas is the symbol of supreme rage, as he burned Apollo’s temple after his daughter Coronis fell in love with him. There are two types of wrath, active rage and silent sulleness.
The raging ones fight on top of the marsh and the sullen ones just sigh deep in the mud. They symbolize the worse sin yet, the hatred for all of man. The raging ones want to harm people, and therefore they hit each other. The sullen ones are stuck in the bottom because they bottled up their wrath for others inside themselves, and they withdrew into a black sulkiness. Dante is attacked by Filippo Argenti, and he begins to feel wrathful towards his old enemy. For the first time there is no sympathy for these people, as they hated others.
Phlegyas is a good example of how the guardian can portray the people he guards. The Furies are the guardians of Circle VI, the Heretics. They are the avenging goddesses who went after great sinners. They symbolize remorse that does not lead to repentance. This is how the Heretics are. They deeply feel remorse for the fact they interpreted things outside the judgment of the Church, preferring their own judgment against the Church’s.
However, they still do not change their ways. The fitting punishment is that they would be buried in iron tombs and surrounded by fire. However, none of the fire is inside the tomb. This shows how the outside appearance of holiness is different from the inside one of hereticism. The iron symbolizes the unwillingness to bend towards the church’s decisions. They are sinners who will never repent, so the Furies will always be after them.
The Centaurs and the Minotaur are the guardians of the first ring of Circle VII, the ring of the violent against neighbors. They are the symbol of man with animal behavior, since they are part men, part beasts. This describes the violent against the neighbors, as they experience passions for shedding blood, and therefore their punishment is to wallow in the river of blood, the Phlegethon river. The blood symbolizes all the blood that they have caused to fall, and now they must be surrounded continuously to remind them of how they got here.
The Centaurs and Minotaur killed many people and they are the bloodthirsty guardians of this ring. The Harpies of the guardians of the second ring of Circle of VII, the ring of the violent against themselves. Harpies are another breed of animal-humans. They are symbol of the will to destroy things, which the suicides had to have in order to kill themselves. Suicide is to get rid of one’s body, and it insults it. Therefore, they are not even allowed to have their own bodies in Hell.
They hated themselves and had no life energy, so the trees are dead and withered. These people took away the gift of life that God gave them, and they will not get it back. This connects back to the Harpies because the Harpies also wanting to destroy everything. Geryon is the guardian of Circle VIII, the Malbowges. He has a just man’s face, beautiful color, the paws of a beast, and the sting in his serpent’s tail.
This mixture misguides in the front and attacks in the back. He is the symbol of Fraud. From here on, the sins are darker and darker. First sex, then religious offices, civil offices, language, ownership, counsel, authority, psychic influence are all perverted.
The Giants are the guardians of Circle IX, home of Cocytus and the traitors. The Giants symbolize the tainting of the heart that have not yet been uncovered. They are only blocks of blood and flesh that can commit only treachery because they don’t have hearts. Nimrod is a stupid braggart; Ephialtes is senseless rage; and Antaeus is brainless vanity. These symbolize how the whole rational thinking of man and nature is overturned in hell. Lucifer is the symbol of ultimate treachery because he eats the treacherous Cassius, Brutus, and Judas.
Lucifer is crying and he is not active, but rather extremely passive. He is the symbol of anything that is Anti-Christianity. His wings are symbol of a distorted angelic properties – he is an extremely distorted version of an angel with 2 arms and 4 wings. He is not powerful, but is subject to God’s punishment, and he is the punisher of the sinners. As can be seen, the guardians of Hell symbolize the characteristic oand punishments of the sinners.
It must be kept in mind that this story was used to bring about repentance of the soul because of it was only a vision. Once the soul sees the real Hell, it is too late to repent.