Dante’s inclusion of the mythological beast Minos in the text of the Inferno is particularly striking because it does not seem to be included for any other reason than providing context for the reader.
Dante’s inclusion of Minos in the Inferno is a reference to his role as judge of the dead in Greek mythology. In Dante’s Inferno, Minos is one of three judges who decide whether souls should be sent to Hell, Heaven or Purgatory after their deaths.
Minos was a Cretan king who ruled during the time of the Trojan War. According to Homer’s Iliad, he was a son of Zeus and Europa and brother of Rhadamanthus (also known as Arion). Like his brother, Minos was also a judge in Hades, although the two men had different roles: while Rhadamanthus judged whether souls could enter Elysium (the afterlife), Minos judged which souls were worthy enough to enter Tartarus (the lower levels of Hades).
Through including the mythological figure Minos in the poem Inferno, Dante intended to provide an impetus for reflection upon justice and judgement. As judge of the afterlife in Greek mythology, Minos has the job of deciding who belongs where in the afterlife: some heads pointed towards Heaven and some towards Hell. Through this figure, viewers are able to gain insight into Dante’s beliefs on moral responsibility and consequence. Not only is presence within Dante’s work a symbol of wrathful cruelty with which he denotes sin, it also showcases his admiration of mythology as he places faith in its ability to compliment his poetic themes. Thus, by introducing Minos and alluding to classical works such as Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante encourages us to think more deeply into our own morality.