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Inferno Teacher’s Guide

By Dan Brown

Inferno by Dan Brown



Inferno is a captivating, suspenseful novel that is ideal for use in the high school classroom. It opens with Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of symbology, who awakens in an Italian hospital. Extremely disoriented and with no memory of the past thirty-six hours, he is stirred into action by an encounter with a relentless female assassin. Langdon and his doctor, Sienna Brooks, flee their pursuer and become involved in an exciting and intriguing adventure. Spurred on by a series of clues left behind by Bertrand Zobrist, a brilliant scientist obsessed with Dante’s Inferno, the two characters look to classical art, architecture, and literature for direction as they strive to prevent a global catastrophe. Their thrilling journey incorporates an assortment of dynamic characters and spans a number of historical settings in locations including Venice, Florence, and Istanbul. Their interactions with other characters provide students with invaluable opportunities to examine characterization, theme, and conflict, and their travels allow students to engage in their own exploration of famous locations, artwork, mysterious organizations, and the legends surrounding each. The book can be read in a number of curricular areas including history, art history, math, science, and English Language Arts. This guide was written with the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards in mind, and you will find a variety of related questions and activities within designed to help students engage in rich, meaningful study of the text and its many associated themes and subjects. 


Dan Brown is the author of numerous #1 bestselling novels, most recently Inferno. His book The Da Vinci Code is one of the bestselling novels of all time. His other books include The Lost Symbol, Angels & Demons, Deception Point, and Digital Fortress. Mr. Brown was named one of the World’s 100 Most Influential People by TIME Magazine. He has appeared in the pages of Newsweek, Forbes, People, GQ, the New Yorker, and other notable publications. His novels are published in more than fifty languages around the world.


This guide features discussion questions, thematic activities and questions, and a range of extension activities to deepen student analysis. A related resources section is also included at the end of the guide. Note that many of the activities here can be used for both individual and collaborative study of the book, and activities and questions are easily scaled and modified to suit various classroom settings. Lastly, the guide’s content does conform to several Common Core State Standards:
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.
Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.


This section includes a number of questions designed to provoke critical analysis. These questions can be posed to the entire class to generate discussion, or students can respond individually through writing, in paired conversations, or in small groups.
Prologue–Chapter 5
1.)    How does the prologue create suspense and generate reader interest? Who do you think the speaker in the prologue could possibly be?
2.)    Chapter 1 begins with a dream sequence. Do you believe this dream sequence possibly foreshadows what is to come? Why? Why not?
3.)    In Chapter 1, the reader is introduced to Dr. Sienna Brooks (p. 12). What are your initial impressions of her?
4.)    “Langdon was overcome by a sudden, instinctive sense of danger . . . not just for himself . . . but for everyone. The pinging of his heart monitor accelerated rapidly” (p. 15). In what ways does the writing in Chapter 1 create tension and establish a sense of disorientation for the reader?
5.)    “The woman was dressed entirely in black leather. She was toned and strong with dark, spiked hair. She moved effortlessly, as if her feet weren’t touching the ground, and she was headed directly for Langdon’s room” (p. 21). What does this character’s appearance suggest about her? What do you believe she wants from Langdon?
6.)    How does the description of The Mendacium indirectly characterize its owner, the provost? Also, what does the word “Mendacium” mean? What are the implications of its meaning?
7.)    Chapter 5 mentions the Consortium’s client, the strange video he left behind, and a plaque with the inscription “IN THIS PLACE, ON THIS DATE, THE WORLD WAS CHANGED FOREVER” (p. 31). Given this information, what inferences can you make about the client and his intentions?
Chapters 6–10
1.)    In Chapter 6, Robert again imagines the silver-haired woman and the dead bodies (p. 33). What do you believe is the significance of this recurring vision?
2.)    “The ponytailed doctor now took his right arm and removed the makeshift bandage that she’d fashioned out of his jacket, which she laid on the kitchen table” (pp. 34–35). Does Sienna Brooks’s care for Langdon, a relative stranger to her, surprise you? Why? Why not?
3.)    What do you know, if anything, about some of the Italian locations, artists, and artwork mentioned on pages 38–39?
4.)    In Chapter 7, what does Langdon learn about Sienna’s past? What could be the implications of this revelation?
5.)    Describe Knowlton’s internal conflict (pp. 47–48).
6.)    The Consortium’s client’s video features a masked figure delivering a strange speech. Perform a close reading of this speech (pp. 49–50, 55–56). What is the purpose of the speaker’s historical allusions? What do you believe the speaker’s intentions are? Support your assertions with textual evidence.
Chapters 11–15
1.)    Describe the object that Langdon discovers inside his jacket. What do you believe it contains?
2.)    What is the plot twist that occurs in Chapter 12? Did this surprise you? Why? Why not?
3.)    How does the author create tension and suspense in Chapter 13? Cite several specific examples.
4.)    Langdon and Sienna are surprised by the appearance of a high-definition image of Botticelli’s The Map of Hell (p. 71). Perform an online search and locate an image of this painting. What strikes you about it? What does the painting have to do with Langdon’s visions?
5.)    What is the significance of the word “saligia”?
6.)    In the image Langdon and Sienna observe, how has Botticelli’s original work been altered? How does Botticelli’s painting relate to Dante’s Inferno?
Chapters 16–20
1.)    In Chapter 16, how do Sienna and Langdon evade their pursuers?
2.)    “In the backseat, an attractive older woman was wedged between two soldiers like a captive” (p. 84). Who do you believe this woman is?
3.)    Describe the flashback sequence in Chapter 17. What important information does the reader glean from this flashback?
4.)    “For Langdon, it felt as if a vital weapon had been extracted from his arsenal. I have no memory” (p. 93). How does Langdon’s memory loss drive the book’s plot and generate reader interest?
5.)    Provide a summary of Langdon’s Dante lecture in Chapter 18. What information from the lecture do you find particularly interesting and/or surprising?
6.)    Why is Vayentha troubled? What challenges does she face?
Chapters 21–25
1.)    What is the significance of the word “Catrovacer” (p. 111)?
2.)    Explain the importance of the Medici family and some of their contributions to Italian culture.
3.)    In Chapter 22, what does the reader learn about the silver-haired woman that Langdon saw earlier in the book?
4.)    Chapter 22 features a chart titled “World Population Growth Throughout History” (p. 122). What strikes you about this chart and the related argument made by “the shadow”?
5.)    What is the significance of the aphorism “Seek and ye shall find”?
6.)    Who was Giorgio Vasari?
Chapters 26–30
1.)    Describe the mood of Chapter 27 and include textual evidence to support your assertions.
2.)    At this point in the narrative, what is primarily motivating Vayentha to pursue Langdon and Sienna?
3.)    “The drone had just swooped down into the walled cul-de-sac, stopping abruptly outside the cavern, where it now hovered at a standstill” (p. 150). How does the inclusion of the drone in the narrative allow the reader to make connections to the world outside of the text?
4.)    How does the pacing in Chapter 30 create suspense and tension?
Chapters 31–35
1.)    Chapter 31 features a graph (p. 164) that details the rising demand for clean water, increasing global surface temperatures, etc. What does the tall shadowy figure attribute these increasing problems to? Do you agree or disagree with his assertion?
2.)    Discuss the historical significance of the Vasari Corridor (pp. 168–69).
3.)    “‘Actually, yes,’ he said. ‘Your organization is made up of doctors, and when doctors have a patient with gangrene, they do not hesitate to cut off his leg to save his life. Sometimes the only course of action is the lesser of two evils’” (p. 166). What do you think Zobrist is suggesting here? What is your reaction to this?
4.)    Describe the artistic and historical significance of the Hall of the Five Hundred.
Chapters 36–40
1.)    From a historical standpoint, what does the phrase “ring around the rosie” (pp. 182–83) refer to?
2.)    Why is Langdon surprised by the pregnant, petite woman who approaches him at the end of Chapter 36?
3.)    Explain how the author creates dramatic irony in Chapter 37.
4.)    What causes the provost to feel particularly uneasy about his most recent client? Do you believe these feelings are understandable? Why? Why not?
5.)    “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis” (p. 193). Why does the mysterious figure leave this quote for Elizabeth Sinskey? Where is the quote from?
6.)    Why are Marta, Langdon, and Sienna surprised when they reach the display case for Dante’s death mask?
Chapters 41–45
1.)    Who is Bertrand Zobrist? What does it mean that he is a “proponent of the Population Apocalypse Equation” (p. 210)?
2.)    Shockingly, who removes Dante’s death mask from its display case? What is your reaction to this?
3.)    Describe Marta Alvarez’s internal conflict (pp. 222–23). What would you do if you were in her position?
4.)     In Chapter 45, why is the map of Armenia so important to Langdon?
Chapters 46–50
1.)    Where does Chapter 46 take place? Provide a thorough description of the setting.
2.)    How does the phrase “Paradise Twenty-five” pertain to Dante’s The Divine Comedy?
3.)    How does Vayentha meet her end? How did you react to her death?
4.)    “The man in the Plume Paris eyeglasses picked at his bleeding skin as he snaked through the crowd, keeping a safe distance behind Robert Langdon and Sienna Brooks” (p. 251). What does this character’s behavior and appearance suggest about him?
5.)  Chapter 50 features an extended discussion of Zobrist’s essay, “Who Needs Agathusia?” Summarize his argument. Do you agree or disagree with his ideas? Why? Why not?
Chapters 51–55
1.)    Why is Langdon searching for a copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy?
2.)    “‘We are still trying to locate Langdon and the girl, but there’s been another development.’ Brüder paused. ‘And if it’s true . . . it changes everything’” (p. 263). How does this dialogue build suspense? What do you think Brüder means by this?
3.)    Why is the Church of Dante “a popular destination for devotees of Dante” (p. 266)?
4.)    What are the “Gates of Paradise” (p. 279)?
5.)    “Legend proclaims that it is physically impossible, upon entering the Baptistery of San Giovanni, not to look up” (p. 285). Perform an online search and locate images of the baptistery’s ceiling. Why do you think visitors are compelled to look up?
Chapters 56–60
1.)    “Moments later, Dante’s death mask lay unsheathed and naked, faceup beneath the bright light, like the head of an anesthetized patient on an operating table” (p. 292). How does the author use Dante’s death mask as a device to drive the novel’s plot?
2.)    Summarize Langdon’s lecture “Divine Dante: Symbols of Hell” (Chapter 57) and discuss one part of the lecture that you found particularly interesting.
3.)    Why do you think the author chose to provide an enlarged illustration of the spiraling poem (p. 304) that Langdon and Sienna observe? What effect does observing it at this scale have on the reader?
4.)    “‘Jonathan Ferris? World Health Organization? The guy who flew to Harvard University and picked you up!?’” (p. 308). Do you believe this man is being truthful about his identity? Why? Why not?
5.)    “The man was in obvious pain, his breathing labored, as if it hurt every time he inhaled” (p. 316). What do you think Dr. Ferris is suffering from? Support your theory with evidence.
Chapters 61–65
1.)    Describe the interaction between Dr. Sinskey and Langdon detailed in the flashback sequence in Chapter 61.
2.)    At this point in the novel, what themes do you notice? Support your assertions with textual evidence.
3.)    “‘Let it be?!’ Robert felt his anger rising. ‘The hell with that! I need some answers!’” (p. 326). Is Robert Langdon’s frustration justified here? Why? Why not?
4.)    What is a “chthonic monster” (p. 334)? How does it pertain to Zobrist’s plague?
5.)    How does the author create dramatic irony in Chapter 65?
Chapters 66–70
1.)    Who is “FS-2080” (p. 344)? How do you know?
2.)    Surprisingly, who contacts Dr. Sinskey in Chapter 67? What does this person say to her?
3.)    “‘Zobrist, however, like many other Transhumanists, argued strongly that it is mankind’s evolutionary obligation to use all the powers at our disposal—germ-line genetic mutation, for one—to improve as a species’” (pp. 352–53). What is Transhumanism? Do you agree or disagree with Zobrist’s argument here? Explain your reasoning.
4.)    Compare and contrast the descriptions of Venice in this section with earlier descriptions of Florence.
5.)    Chapter 70 features an important meeting between Dr. Sinskey and the provost. Compare and contrast these two characters; consider their appearance, personality type, motivations, etc.
Chapters 71–75
1.)    In Chapter 71, how does the author establish a sense of place? Cite specific evidence in your answer to this question.
2.)     In Chapter 72, how do the Horses of St. Mark’s serve as a significant clue for Langdon?
3.)    What historical tale does Ettore Vio share with Langdon?
4.)    “As the crowd closed in, tourists began shouting for help. Sienna gripped Langdon’s arm with startling force and dragged him away from the chaos, out into the fresh air of the balcony” (p. 399). Do you believe it was ethical for Sienna and Langdon to leave Ferris in his current condition? Why? Why not?
Chapters 76–80
1.)    Who was Enrico Dandolo?
2.)    “‘I’m so sorry, Robert,’ she whispered. Then, after a pause, she added, ‘For everything’” (p. 408). What do you think Sienna means here?
3.)    How does Langdon’s disorientation at the start of Chapter 77 compare to his disorientation at the beginning of the book?
4.)    In Chapter 77, what does Langdon find out “ECDC” stands for? How does this revelation challenge his (and the reader’s) previous view of Agent Brüder and his men?
5.)    What does Langdon discover about the “tethered plastic sac” (p. 418) in Zobrist’s video? How does this discovery further increase tension?
6.)    What does the reader learn about Sienna Brooks in this section of the text?
Chapters 81–85
1.)    “Langdon stared at the tiny man in disbelief. ‘You gave me amnesia!’” (p. 442). Why did the provost do this to Langdon?
2.)    What does the provost reveal about the time Langdon spent in the hospital? What was the purpose of this performance?
3.)    “The American professor looked as if he had just been snatched up off the ground by a tornado, spun around, and dumped in a foreign land…” (p. 446). How does the reader’s reaction to this section’s revelations likely compare to Langdon’s reaction?
4.)    In Chapter 83, what does Ferris reveal?
5.)    Why did Zobrist choose Istanbul as his “ground zero”?
Chapters 86–90
1.)    “Available online, businesses with names like the Alibi Company and Alibi Network made fortunes all over the world by providing unfaithful spouses with a way to cheat and not get caught” (p. 466). Do you believe, in reality, that such organizations possibly exist? How does the provost distinguish his services from those provided by organizations such as the Alibi Company?
2.)    What are some of Hagia Sophia’s architectural features mentioned in Chapters 87 and 88?
3.)    “The finale of Dante’s Inferno seemed to be echoing up from below” (p. 480). How does Chapter 89’s setting connect to the finale of Dante’s Inferno?
4.)    What is a “bioaerosol” (p. 484)? How has Zobrist created one?
Chapters 91–95
1.)    “Bathed in red light, the subterranean cavern resonated with the sounds of hell-inspired music—the wail of voices, the dissonant pinch of strings, and the deep roll of timpani, which thundered through the grotto like a seismic tremor” (p. 490). How does this opening section of Chapter 91 establish mood and create a specific atmosphere?
2.)    “On the sign, accompanied by a directional arrow, was the name of a fearsome Gorgon—an infamous female monster.” (p. 493). What do you know about Medusa? Why is it noteworthy that she is mentioned here?
3.)    “Brüder repeated the command, but it was unnecessary. Sinskey knew he was correct. In the face of a possible pandemic, containment was the only viable option” (p. 502). Do you agree or disagree with the decision to seal the doors? Why? Why not?
4.)    “Sienna had gotten into the water before him” (p. 508). Do you believe this? What do you think Sienna’s intentions are at this point in the narrative?
5.)    Why do you believe Sienna turns the boat around?
Chapters 96–100
1.)    “They were dressed in bulbous white jumpsuits that locked into airtight helmets, and the group looked like a team of astronauts breaching an alien spacecraft” (p. 516). What is the effect of this simile? How does it influence the reader’s perception of Sinskey and the SRS team?
2.)    In Chapter 97, Langdon realizes that the virus has already been released. In your opinion, does this invalidate his attempts to prevent this? Why? Why not?
3.)    In Chapter 98, how does the author emphasize both the scale and degree of danger associated with Zobrist’s virus?
4.)    What did Zobrist’s virus actually do? How many people was it designed to affect?
5.)    Why does Sienna claim she did not cooperate with the WHO? Do you find her argument to be convincing? Why? Why not?
Chapters 101–Epilogue
1.)    “Reflexively, she reached to her neck for her amulet necklace, but there was nothing to grasp. The broken talisman now lay on her desk in two fractured halves” (p. 538). What could Dr. Sinskey’s broken talisman possibly symbolize?
2.)    What is a vector virus?
3.)    Is Dr. Sinskey partially to blame for what occurred because she did not heed Zobrist’s warning about overpopulation? Explain your reasoning.
4.)    Ultimately, do you view Sienna as a hero or villain? Should she have worked with the WHO instead of against them? Explain your reasoning.
5.)    “‘Robert…genetic engineering is not an acceleration of the evolutionary process. It is the natural course of events!’” (p. 549). Do you agree or disagree with Sienna’s statement? Why?
6.)    “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis” (p. 559). Why do you believe the author includes this sentence at both the beginning and end of the novel? 

Exploring the Themes

This section features a variety of questions and activities pertaining to several of the text’s central themes.
The Meaning and Power of Symbols, Art, and Literature
1.)    Spend some time researching (and if possible, reading) Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy and its first section, “Inferno.” In general, what is the historical and literary significance of this text? Why do you think Dan Brown chose to draw inspiration from Dante’s Inferno for his novel of the same name? What are several contemporary creative works (other than Brown’s Inferno) that have alluded to, reimagined, or commented on Dante’s masterful work (see the “Related Resources” section of this guide for several examples)? How did they do so? Present your findings to the class.
2.)    How do various characters in the text function as “symbols” with their own concealed truths? Use a simple T-Chart (located here:; include the headings “Inner” and “Outer” on opposite sides) to analyze one of the following characters and discuss the contrast between his or her outer appearance and inner countenance: Sienna Brooks, Vayentha, or Jonathan Ferris.
3.)    Inferno explores the significance and meaning of several symbols. Consider several symbols mentioned in the novel and discuss both their historical importance and the ways in which they affect the plot and mood of Inferno. What are other important symbols or patterns, consisting of letters or numbers, outside of the text that you can identify and analyze? Explore this topic through the composition of a developed, articulate essay.
4.)    Critique one of the following artistic works mentioned in Inferno:
•         Botticelli’s The Map of Hell:
•         Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment:
•         Gustave Dore’s Inferno illustrations:
•         Michelangelo’s David:
•         Domenico di Michelino’s The Comedy Illuminating Florence:
•         Giorgio Vasari’s The Battle of Marciano:
To perform the artistic critique, look closely at your chosen work of art and answer the following questions through writing and/or discussion:
a)      What do you notice about the lines, shapes, colors, use of space, and other related technical elements of the work?
b)      What seems to be the subject matter of the work? What do you know about it, if anything?
c)      How does the work relate to Brown’s Inferno?
d)      What especially strikes you about the work?
e)      Do you like the work? Why? Why not?
5.)    What role do the phrase “Cerca trova” and its anagram CATROVACER play in Inferno? Research the phrase, the mural it appears in (Vasari’s The Battle of Marciano), and the intrigue surrounding this work.
6.)    An archetype is a sort of universal symbol that can be found in many works of literature. These include character types, literal symbols, situations, and patterns (for more information, consult Search for evidence of several archetypes, such as the hero, villain, the trickster, and the quest in Inferno. What evidence can you find of their existence? Share your findings with your classmates.
7.)    Research some of the mathematical and numerological concepts mentioned in the novel, such as the symmetrical clockwise Archimedean spiral, the number nine’s connection to Dante, and the number eight’s significance to Christianity. What are these concepts? Why do they matter both in the novel and in the world?
The Threat of Overpopulation and Other Dangers to Human Existence
1.)    “The mathematics of Malthus? A quick Internet search led him to information about a prominent nineteenth-century English mathematician and demographist named Thomas Robert Malthus, who had famously predicted an eventual global collapse due to overpopulation” (p. 172).
Who was Thomas Robert Malthus, and what exactly were his theories regarding overpopulation? Do you find his assertions to be credible and relevant? Why? Why not?
2.)     “‘Zobrist illustrated his point with a ‘Doomsday Clock,’ which showed that if the entire span of human life on Earth were compressed into a single hour . . . we are now in its final seconds.’
‘I’ve actually seen that clock online,’ Langdon said” (p. 253).
Visit the official Doomsday Clock website at
Read through the overview and peruse some of the other resources on the website such as the “Doomsday Dashboard” and “Doomsday Clock Timeline.” What specific threats are considered when the clock’s time is set? What is the clock’s current time? If Zobrist’s virus actually existed, how do you believe it would affect the clock’s time?
3.)    “‘In fact, Zobrist was once quoted as saying that “the best thing that ever happened to Europe was the Black Death”’” (p. 210). Why would Zobrist make such a provocative statement? What was the Black Death? Did the plague actually catalyze any positive social developments? Perform research and answer these questions.
4.)    “‘That long-beaked mask,’ Langdon said, ‘was worn by medieval plague doctors to keep the pestilence far from their nostrils while treating the infected. Nowadays, you only see them worn as costumes during Venice Carnevale—an eerie reminder of a grim period in Italy’s history’” (p. 52). Trace the appearance of the plague mask throughout Inferno. When is the mask mentioned in the text? How does each mention of the mask serve as a form of characterization or influence the narrative’s mood? Additionally, examine an image of a masked plague doctor here:,_Der_Doctor_Schnabel_von_Rom_(Holl%C3%A4nder_version).png
5.)    Through writing, describe what you notice about the image and the emotional reaction you have to it.
6.)    “‘Dr. Sinskey,’ the shadow continued. ‘What the World Health Organization fails to recognize is that there is only one global health issue.’ He pointed again to the grim image on the screen—a sea of tangled, cloying humanity. ‘And this is it’” (p. 121). Zobrist argues that overpopulation is the central threat facing humanity. What assumptions undergird his argument? Consider the numerous threats facing our species (the potential for nuclear conflict, climate change, etc.) and answer the following questions: Do you believe overpopulation is the preeminent threat? How does overpopulation intersect with, create, or compound other significant threats to life on Earth? How should our species successfully and ethically address the problem of overpopulation?
7.)    “‘His essay essentially declared that the human race was on the brink of extinction, and that unless we had a catastrophic event that precipitously decreased global population growth, our species would not survive another hundred years’” (p. 253). Perform your own statistical analysis and assess the validity of Zobrist’s thesis. Examine current and projected population totals, rates of natural resource consumption, global food supply levels, and estimate how long the human race is likely to survive if current trends and projections hold true. Present your findings to the class through the use of charts, graphs, and other visual representations of data.
The Power of Genetic and Social Engineering
1.)    “Langdon had no idea what germ-line manipulation was, but it had an ominous ring, especially in light of the recent spate of images involving plagues and death” (p. 209). Access several credible resources, such as those linked at, to learn about germ-line manipulation and the many ethical questions it raises. Present your findings to the class and construct several related questions to provoke discussion.
2.)    “It [Transhumanism] essentially states that humans should use technology to transcend the weaknesses inherent in our human bodies. In other words, the next step in human evolution should be that we begin biologically engineering ourselves” (p. 352). Perform research to learn more about Transhumanism and answer the following questions: What are the central tenets of the Transhumanist movement? How, where, and when did the movement originate? Do Zobrist’s beliefs and actions truly reflect Transhumanist principles? Do you personally agree with these principles? Why? Why not?
3.)    “‘The biggest backlash against Zobrist, however, came when he declared that his advances in genetic engineering would be far more helpful to mankind if they were used not to cure disease, but rather to create it’” (p. 253). Despite the backlash, Zobrist creates a sterility virus and unleashes it on the world’s population. Do you view this action as heroic or villainous? Why? More broadly, consider genetic engineering, in general. Which aspects of genetic engineering are beneficial? Which aspects are unethical and potentially destructive? Support your opinions with evidence.
4.)    “‘Bertrand created something known as a viral vector. It’s a virus intentionally designed to install genetic information into the cell it’s attacking. . . . A vector virus . . . rather than killing its host cell . . . inserts a piece of predetermined DNA into that cell, essentially modifying the cell’s genome’” (p. 528). Perform scientific research, analyze how vector viruses function, and explain how they are distinct from other viral forms. Additionally, discuss why Zobrist chose to use a vector virus to accomplish his goals. Was this his best option? Today he might have utilized a different resource such as CRISPR, a new genome editing tool. Which is better? Explain your reasoning.
5.)    “‘What government would condone the creation of a plague?’
‘The same governments that try to obtain nuclear warheads on the black market. Don’t forget that an effective plague is the ultimate biochemical weapon, and it’s worth a fortune’” (p. 351).
“‘Government agencies are the last entities on earth that should have access to this technology! Think about it, Robert. Throughout all of human history, every groundbreaking technology ever discovered by science has been weaponized.’” (p. 532).
Could Zobrist’s virus be used as a bioweapon? If so, how? Was Sienna correct in her choice to not seek out a government agency for assistance? In reality, do you believe our government could be trusted to destroy such a virus, or would they likely weaponize it instead? Research the history of the United States biological weapons program as you construct your responses to these questions.
The Significance of Various Groups and Mysterious Organizations
1.)    Select several main characters and trace how their individual narratives are shaped by, and intersect with, some of the organizations in the novel. How do the Consortium, the World Health Organization, and the Council on Foreign Relations affect and influence the main characters in Inferno?
2.)    From Inferno’s FACT page: “‘The Consortium’ is a private organization with offices in seven countries. Its name has been changed for considerations of security and privacy.” How do you describe the Consortium? What is the organization’s central purpose? Do you believe the group to be an ethical one? Perform research and locate at least one real organization that is similar to the Consortium in its structure and purpose. Discuss the parallels you discover with the class.
3.)    Organizations mentioned in the book include the Consortium, the World Health Organization, the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Choose an organization and closely examine its depiction in Inferno from the perspective of an investigative reporter. While drawing on applicable passages from the text, design a website for your chosen organization that reports on its central mission, details its history, provides information about related characters in the novel, and includes other pertinent information. Each website must contain text, images, and video. Google Sites (all Google resources mentioned in this guide are available with a free Google account),, or are all free resources that can be used for this activity.
4.)    “He paused, staring directly at her. ‘And so I brought you here to ask you directly why the hell the World Health Organization does not have the guts to deal with this issue head-on?’” (p. 120). Zobrist is intensely critical of the World Health Organization (WHO), as he believes they have not adequately addressed overpopulation. Given the portrayal of the WHO in the text, do you believe Zobrist’s critique is correct? Why? Why not? In reality, what is the WHO’s stance on overpopulation? In your opinion, does the organization take overpopulation seriously enough?
5.)    Vayentha and Agent Brüder are two secondary characters from two different factions: the Consortium and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. To add additional development to these characters, choose one and compose several “diary entries” from his or her perspective. In these entries, write in first person and reference your character’s orders, feelings about his or her organization, and internal conflicts. Ensure that your writing is clear and descriptive.
6.)    Research the actual World Health Organization, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and their protocols and procedures related to public health crises such as the one described in Inferno. What are their containment protocols? What are their strategies for addressing acts of bioterrorism? Do you find their procedures and responses to be sufficient? Why? Why not? 


This section includes activities/projects that are designed to extend student analysis of the novel. Note that many of these can be used in either individual or grouped configurations. Also, while many of the activities here are primarily designed for use after students finish the book, several activities can be used during reading as well.
Student Generated Questions (QAR)
Allow students to take ownership of inquiry through this activity. QAR refers to Question-Answer Relationships:
1.)    Right there questions: answers to these questions are found explicitly in the text.
2.)    Think and search questions: the answer lies in the text, but it may only be found by examining several different sections and piecing it together.
3.)    Author and you: answers connect the text and personal experience.
4.)    On my own: answers do not require text; personal experience is privileged.
Have students work independently to generate one question, per category, for a specific section of the book (Dr. Sinskey and Zobrist’s intense conversation at the Council on Foreign Relations, Langdon and Sienna’s experiences in the Palazzo Vecchio, or any later chapter in the book would work well for this). Tell students to record their questions on a separate sheet of paper. After these questions are generated, teachers have several options:
1.)    Have students submit questions on note cards and randomly select several for a quick assessment.
2.)    Have students trade and answer one another’s questions in writing or through paired conversation.
3.)    Have students select one question to expand upon in an extended, written response (“Right there” questions do not work well for this).
For more information on this strategy, consult this resource:
Character Study Through Concept Maps
A Concept Map allows students to display their analysis in an organized, visual manner. This graphic organizer works particularly well with Inferno, as the book features many dynamic character relationships. Concept Maps can be used in several different ways. First, students can select one character to occupy the center of the map, and linked sections can specify character traits along with textual support. Second, students can feature two characters, one on each side of the diagram, and they can list similar and contrasting characteristics on different sides. Lastly, students can feature multiple characters within the same map, and linked sections of the map can identify how each character truly views yet outwardly behaves toward the other (linking Sienna Brooks to Langdon would highlight the discrepancy between Sienna’s true intentions and her contrived, outward behavior).
For examples of these maps, consult this resource:
For a simple online Concept Map creator, go here:
Open Mind Symbology Activity
In this activity, students select a character and make inferences about what resides within his or her mind. Have small groups of students select a character and construct a list of his or her personality traits, fears, goals, desires, and other notable characteristics. Next, have students represent these things visually through symbols (for example, one symbol for Langdon might be a magnifying glass, to symbolize his curiosity and propensity for close examination).
Once they have several symbols, have students cut out (or create on a digital canvas) a profile of their character’s head and arrange the symbols inside. Students can use traditional art supplies (construction paper, markers, magazines, etc.) or digital resources such as On the back, or underneath the character profile, have students explain the reasoning for their symbols, and require them to cite specific text from the novel as justification. Have them present their visual project to the class.
Paideia Seminar
A Paideia Seminar is a student-centered, Socratic discussion. In it, the teacher serves as facilitator by providing students with open-ended questions, prompting students to respond, and linking student comments. There are three main question categories: opening questions, core questions, and closing questions. Opening questions identify main ideas from the text (Why is Zobrist obsessed with the world’s population?). Core questions require students to analyze textual details (In what specific ways are Langdon and Sienna alike and different? How do specific settings impact the book’s mood and affect reader interest?). Finally, closing questions personalize textual concepts (What sort of lessons can be learned from the book? How do you explain the book’s immense popularity?). Construct multiple questions like these, and have students gather in a large circle.
Establish group goals for the discussion and have students create individual goals as well. Some group goals could include practicing active listening strategies, disagreeing constructively, and having each participant express at least two thoughts. Individual goals could include referring to specific passages, building on another’s comments, and making consistent eye contact with others. Facilitate the conversation and concentrate on eliciting student responses. When the discussion concludes, have students self-assess and provide feedback on the seminar. Note that many of the discussion questions in this guide can be used in this activity.
For more information, consult
Film and Text Comparison
Ron Howard’s 2016 Inferno film is interesting and accessible to students.
Have students view the film after finishing the book. Give them a graphic organizer, such as a double-column chart, and have them list similarities and differences (one category per side) between the film and book while they watch. Have them pay close attention to dialogue, plot, and how different scenes are constructed (How are the characters positioned in each shot? Is the setting highlighted or deemphasized? How does music influence the mood and pacing of the scenes?) After viewing, have students participate in a debate during which they compare and contrast the two mediums and make an argument for which version more effectively conveys the central themes of the story.
1.)    How does Zobrist’s “plague” differ in the film and the book?
2.)    How do the film/book endings differ, and why do you think the author and the filmmakers chose slightly different endings?
3.)    Discuss the different fates of Sienna in the novel and the film.
4.)    Discuss which characters did not appear in the film, and what was the effect on the story.
Blog as a Character
To encourage students to think more deeply about the world depicted in Inferno, have them blog from the perspective of a character in the book. To begin, have students select a single character. To make it more challenging for students, have them select a minor character.
Students should write multiple entries from their selected character’s perspective that refer to various events in the book. Have them write in first person, and encourage them to be reflective and creative as they compose. For example, a student writing as Sienna could provide a detailed account of her true motives; the provost could provide backstory to the book through his personal entries. This activity should inspire students to think critically about the text and compose in a creative fashion. To add more depth to the assignment, have students include images and videos in their blog entries. Lastly, students (as characters) could comment on each other’s blog posts to introduce another imaginative layer.
Either of these resources would work for this assignment:
•         Google Blogger:
•         WordPress:
Students could of course draft their entries on paper, but one advantage of digital composition is that students write for an authentic, interactive audience, and teachers may find that this provides extended discussion and reflection.
Gallery Walk
A gallery walk requires students to circulate around the room while thoughtfully observing and analyzing visual content. To prepare, first select five Inferno-related images that you believe will provoke students to reflect and think critically. The following websites can be used for this:
After you select the five images, display each image on its own designated laptop or print each out in color. Place each image at a different location in the room, and arrange desks so that students can walk around and visit each image station. Encourage students to spend time reflecting on each image, and as they do so, have them respond to the following questions on a piece of paper:
1.)                What would a good title for the image be? Why?
2.)                What do you notice about the figures and/or setting featured in the image?
3.)                How does the image make you feel? Explain.
4.)                In what ways can you connect the image to the text?
Have students share their responses in small groups or with the entire class.
Film and Produce a Book Trailer
This activity requires students to make creative decisions as they collaborate, storyboard, and film a book trailer for Inferno. To begin, break students into groups of four or five, and have each group select one of the themes mentioned in this guide:
1.)                The Meaning and Power of Symbols, Art, and Literature
2.)                The Threat of Overpopulation and Other Dangers to Human Existence
3.)                The Power of Genetic and Social Engineering
4.)                The Significance of Various Groups and Mysterious Organizations
Next, direct each group to locate passages that pertain to their theme. After this, explain to students that each group will be designing a “book trailer” for Inferno, which functions much like a traditional movie trailer would. Each trailer must give the viewer a sense of the book’s plot, include original footage, music, and text, and it must reflect the group’s assigned theme. Lastly, students must film and act in their group’s trailer.
Have each group first storyboard their trailer (an online template can be found here:, and have them plan for a video around two minutes long. If students have access to Apple devices, they should be able to use iMovie for the assignment, as it includes a trailer template. Other video-editing software, of course, could also work. After they film and edit, have students show their trailers to the class.
Virtual Tours
To encourage students to take a closer look at some of the physical locations in the book, have them access several of the following “virtual tours.” For each, have students maintain a travel diary, either in print or digital form, in which they discuss the historical significance (they may need to access additional sources for this) of each location and provide a detailed description of its physical and architectural features.
•         Baptistery of San Giovanni:
•         Palazzo Vecchio:
•         The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo):
•         Boboli Gardens:
•         Hagia Sophia:
•         Yerebatan Sarayi (the Sunken Palace):
•         Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square):
Unpacking Genre  
Inferno has been variously described using several different, but related, genres: mystery, adventure, conspiracy fiction, and thriller. Break the class into groups and have each one choose a specific genre to research. Ask groups to consider these questions as they work: What are the central features of your chosen genre? What are several literary works representative of your genre? Based on what your research has revealed, how do Inferno’s style, mood, conflict, and plot reflect your selected genre? Have each group report out to their peers, and have the class compare and contrast each genre.
Dante Alighieri KWL Activity  
Use this activity to familiarize students with Dante Alighieri and his creative works. First, have them create a KWL chart by folding a piece of paper into three columns. From left to right, have students title each column as follows: What I Know, What I Want to Know, and What I Learned. Have students respond to the first two columns, and have them share their responses with the class. Next, have students access the following two resources that discuss Dante’s life and work:
During and after their research, have them respond in the final column. Here, they should discuss what new information they learned about Dante. Have students write what they believe to be the most important information about him on Post-it notes, and have them stick their notes on the board to provide basis for a whole-class discussion.
Trailer Analysis
Show students the trailer for Inferno, the film starring Tom Hanks:
While students watch, have them jot down adjectives to describe what they see. After they conclude their viewing, have them elaborate on a few adjectives in writing or through class discussion. Additionally, ask them to consider the following questions:
1.)    What were some of the adjectives you wrote down? Why?
2.)    How would you describe the mood of the film?
3.)    What types of conflict did you notice?
4.)    Which parts of the book did you notice in the trailer?


The following resources could complement a reading of Inferno.
Internet Resources:
Further Reading:
Alighieri, Dante. The Portable Dante (Penguin Classics, 2003).
Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS). The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images (Taschen, 2010).
Butler, Tom. Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (Goff Books, 2015).
De Villiers, Marq. Our Way Out: First Principles for a Post-apocalyptic World (McClelland & Stewart, 2011).

Emmott, Stephen. Ten Billion (Vintage, 2013).
Erlich, Paul. The Population Explosion (Simon & Schuster, 1991).
Gore, Al, Jr. An Inconvenient Truth (Rodale, 2006).
Hall, James, and Kenneth Clark. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (Westview Press, 2007).
King, Ross. Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture (Bloomsbury USA, 2013).
Langdon, John. Wordplay: Ambigrams and Reflections on the Art of Ambigrams (Harcourt, 1992).
Lewis, R. W. B. Dante: A Life (Penguin Lives, 2009).
Malthus, Thomas Robert. An Essay on the Principle of Population (W.W. Norton, 2003).
McNeil, William. Plagues and Peoples (Anchor Books, 2010).
Ridley, Matt. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters
Singh, Simon. The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography (Anchor, 2011).
Wrixon, Fred B. Codes, Ciphers & Other Cryptic & Clandestine Communication: Making & Breaking Secret Messages from Hieroglyphs to the Internet (Black Dog & Leventhal, 1998).


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Chris Gilbert has taught high school English for the past ten years in Asheville, North Carolina. He is also an avid writer. His work has appeared in the Language Experience Forum Journal, the Washington Post’s education blog, “The Answer Sheet,” NCTE’s (National Council of Teachers of English’s) English Journal, and he has also written a number of Teacher’s Guides and First Year and Common Reading Resource Guides for Penguin Random House. He is a 2013 and 2015 recipient of NCTE’s Paul and Kate Farmer Writing Award.

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