The hype behind Netflix’s obsession-worthy binger 1899 is real. It is the kind of series you must watch multiple times while taking notes to catch everything. But it is ready-made for this time of the year. With time on our hands and enough Reddit discussions to sink a ship, it is the kind of series you could get lost in, much like the harrowing trip through Hell in Dante’s Inferno.
By the end of 1899, Maura has woken up from the Kerberos only to find herself on a spaceship surrounded by her friends and enemies from the first simulation. Her guide and supposed husband, Daniel, is nowhere to be seen, and her son Elliot is also MIA. Everyone but her brother Ciaran who messages her via an 80s-era monitor, is unconscious in hibernation pods. The message May your coffee kick in before reality is an ominous warning that all is not as it seems, as Maura is likely still not free.
Knowing these poor people are stuck in at least one, if not many, simulations stacked on top of one another begs a comparison to Dante’s Inferno. In Dante Alighieri’s poem, which is the first part of the greater Divine Comedy, Dante is guided through Hell by the Roman poet Virgil. As he walks through the gates, he sees the phrase Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate, most commonly translated into Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. There is no such inscription anywhere on the boats or in any of the alternate locations like the mental hospital, Henry’s office, Elliot’s room, or Maura and Daniel’s bedroom.
The coffee phrase, however, does come up multiple times. It is a constant that defines the space. In the opening moments of 1899 Episode 1, Maura hears her father(or brother potentially) saying wake up. Every other character who awakens after hearing the command hears Maura’s voice. Is this a clue that no one but Maura is real, and she was placed there by either her father or brother for unknown reasons? If this is the case, her journey so far could be viewed as descending through several levels of Hell.
In Dante’s Inferno, in the vestibule of Hell, Dante passes the anguished cries of the noncommital. These are the people who refused to take sides. These are also people who sacrificed others to protect themselves. Among the known stories of the passengers, these would include Lucien, Ling Yi, and to a lesser degree, Ramiro and Yuk Je.
It is interesting to note that in Purgatorio, the second part of the comedy, the idea of sin is explored. In it, all sin is said to come from love. This is intriguing because, as many have hypothesized, Elliot may be a construct of the living son Maura once had or wishes desperately she had. Eyk’s sin of self-loathing and excess stems from his love for his family that he lost and his guilt that he wasn’t there to save them. Tove’s family’s sins stem from her horrific rape and subsequent pregnancy. They love her, and witnessing the brutal attack caused them to become feverishly religious and incapable of seeing anything but God and punishment. Yuk Je, Ramiro, and Angel acted out of love for someone they sought to protect. Not all of the characters belong in this category, but enough do to be fascinating.
The nine circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno and 1899
Dante encounters more wickedness in each of the concentric circles that comprise the nine circles of Hell. The outer circles contain sinners who committed lesser crimes and are punished accordingly, while the inner rings deal with more heinous indiscretions and fitting punishments. Each punishment fits the severity and nature of the sin. For example, fortune tellers are doomed to walk the Earth with their heads sewn on backward because, in life, they tried to see into the future. Dante defines three types of sin.
Incontinence, the sin of gluttony and wantonness. Violence/Beastiality is obvious, and Fraud/Malice is the sin of lying or intentionally doing harm and justifying it. It is further described as crimes against the reasonability of humanity. Incontinence was a lesser sin; as such, those souls who committed that crime were relegated to the upper four circles of Hell, with Violence and Fraud being much more severe. Fraud was the most egregious sin and held the bottom tiers of Hell.
The first circle is Limbo, where the virtuous but unbaptized remain. It is the place for scholars, scientists, and nonbelievers who are otherwise decent human beings. Dante encounters Homer, Socrates, Plato, and the Roman emperor Cicero to name a few.
The second circle of Hell is for lust. The beast Minos rules this circle where each sinner must confess to him, and he, in turn, metes out appropriate punishment. A massive storm rages in the second level where each person who in life was ruled by their carnal desires is forced to be thrown about by violent winds in the afterlife. Angel’s inability to remain loyal and Krestor’s sexual awakening fit this category. Much like the terrible storm that threatened to sink the Kerberos in 1899 Season 1, the passengers were victims of the elements, natural or otherwise.
Another storm rages in the third circle of Hell, condemning the gluttons in Dante’s Inferno. Those who dwell here live in a vile black sludge similar to the representation of the digital virus Daniel unleashed in the simulation in 1899. It is also essential to note Cerberos, the three-headed hound, guards this circle and eternally bites and claws at the pitiful souls who live in the muck. Those here are doomed to be sightless and soundless pathetic souls who suffer alone without knowing about their neighbors. Just as the winds in the first circle reveal the truth about lust, the sludge reveals the lonely nature of addiction and overindulgence. Eyk is an alcoholic who feels mired in a black hole of despair. Depending on your definition of gluttony and who you believe Elliot is, Maura could belong here due to her obsession with preserving his life.
The fourth circle is for Greed. Plutus, the deity of wealth, guards it. The classists, entitled upper class of the ship, are represented here. Figures like Angel, who could find a home in many of the circles of Hell, best exemplify the type of person that would be found here. He consistently abuses Ramiro and is unfaithful to the obviously devoted man. He also has a predatory nature that causes him to pursue the much younger and more vulnerable Krestor.
Although an argument could be made that Krestor himself may have preyed on a younger stablehand resulting in the vicious attack on his sister. We have very little insight into the event aside from the assaulter’s assertion about Krestor. His story could be a tragic story of a young boy experiencing sexuality for the first time or something darker. Krestor is consistently presented as innocent, however, so I tend to believe he is homosexual in a time when that wasn’t acceptable.
Another person who might represent greed would be Mrs. Wilson, who regularly trades the flesh of those in her employ for money and information, which she uses to acquire more of both. Eyk may have continued to work, even knowing his wife was struggling, because he liked the money he received. That would help explain some of his guilt. Finally, Maura’s father, Henry, seems incredibly greedy, wanting both power and money over his business, his children, and their lives.
Within the swampy waters of the River Styx is the fifth circle of Hell. This one is dedicated to Wrath. Those who live here are split into two camps. Those who are silently wrathful live under the dark water, unable to do anything about their rage. They are choked by their anger, unable to express it. The second group is those who live above the river. They are fated to fight each other for eternity. This is where the frustrated most live. Overcome with regret, rage, and pain. They are doomed to stay in their wrath and never grow from it.
Dante sees Filippo Argenti there, whose brother stole Dante’s property while he was exiled from Florence. It is here that Dante is said to finally realize he has sins of his own to atone for. Here in the fifth circle, is the entrance to Dis. Initially, Virgil and Dante are refused access to the city by the fallen angels who guard it. Later, an angel from Heaven pries the doors open for the pair, and they begin exploring sins beyond human understanding. Daniel, as a ghost in the machine or rogue program, represents the angel from Heaven who permits access. With his ability to open doors and portals as well as identify and use keys, he is literary the opener of doors. He is the Keymaker in the Matrix and Maura’s extremely useful guardian angel.
The sixth circle in Dante’s Inferno is for heretics. This realm is for those who don’t believe and actively voice their disdain. Politically Dante was a tricky man as he was a heretic who spoke of prophecies. This section of Dante’s Inferno explains that those who live in Hell know only about Earth from viewing the future. As a result, they have no understanding of the present. Consequently, this means “when the portal from the future has been closed,” they will have no idea what is happening. Considering all of the portals and timelines saw in Season 1 of 1988, the parallels are clear.
Heresy, in this case, is religious, which is right in Iben and Anker’s wheelhouse, but it could also apply to scientific facts. If Henry or Ciaran believes whatever Maura did was wrong and rejects her discovery, that could be viewed as an act of heresy. In this viewing, Maura would be the creator she is named several times and God. In the sixth circle, Dante understands that to sin against nature and art, which are children of God, is to sin against God. If the stipulation that Elliot is an AI is factual, anything done to harm Maura’s digital son would be viewed as a heretical act against God.
The seventh circle is split into three different areas. It is guarded by the Minotaur and surrounded by jagged rocks from a horrific earthquake during the Harrowing of Hell. The first section is covered in boiling bloody water. This is where those who commit violence against their neighbors go. Historic people like Attila the Hun and Alexander the Great reside here. It is a place for tyrants, warmakers, and killers. Nessus, a Centaur guides Dante and Virgil around the bloody waters while two others shoot arrows into anyone who rises out of the water farther than their sin permits. The second section is saved for those who self-harm.
The Woods of Suicides in Dante’s Inferno is a bleak place where many of the people on board the Kerberos could find themselves, although an argument could be made they did not intend to commit suicide. However, the theory that the ones who lept to their deaths were unimportant characters who were purged from the playing field to allow for game progression is probable and, in this case, would prevent those who jumped from being punished.
Maura’s wrist wounds are a curiosity. We have taken at face value everything we saw in 1899, but if her wounds were self-inflicted, it would put an entirely different spin on things and place her firmly in this realm. Souls are punished here by being transformed into gnarled trees because they didn’t appreciate human life when they were living, so they will live eternity as withered trees incapable of producing life or even sap.
It is a metaphor for the state of mind of those who commit this sin. The third part of the seventh circle is for violence against God. It is where the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah reside. It features burning sands and flames raining down from the skies. Dante drops a chord from his cloak over a cliff here, and the great creature Geryon, the Monster of Fraud, emerges. Typically described as a reptilian, dragon-like creature with the face of a trustworthy man, he is the face of deception. Dante rides the winged beast below to examine the punished. Like a spaceship exploring space, Dante witnesses the tragedy alone. Each of the Userers has a symbol emblazoned on their bodies or cloaks. Similar to the triangles found on almost all of our characters and their possessions.
The Geryon allowed Virgil and Dante to continue on his back to the eighth circle of Hell. This is the place for seducers like Angel, hypocrites, thieves, corrupt politicians, liars, and imposters like almost everyone on board who is pretending to be someone they aren’t, bribers, flatterers, and grifters. It is in this section of Dante’s Inferno that Dante’s pride is seen. Despite condemning believing rhetoric without considering wisdom. He tells of Ulysses, condemned to this circle of Hell for convincing his crew to set sail in unknown waters simply for curiosity and wanderlust.
Ironically Dante’s journey could be construed as curiosity-inspired. Maura’s journey to “wake up” and move to reality could make her the classic Ulysses seeker, as her father refers to her. This might make Dante her brother Ciaran the avoider. As Dante spends most of his time unable to face his own sins, he is an avoider like Henry says Ciaran is.
In the ninth circle of Hell lies the reasoning for the above-mentioned sins. Likely pride and self-preservation. These sins warp every human interaction. Maura is an unreliable narrator and can’t be trusted. A vast frozen lake is divided into four quadrants—one for deceptions against family, community, guests, and lords. At the center is the Devil or Dis, the ruler of Hell. He has three faces and batlike wings. An unholy trinity that finds similarity to both Maura, Henry, and Ciaran, and Maura, Daniel, and Elliot. Many of the characters can be grouped into trios. Lucien, Jerome, and Clemente, Olek Ling Yi and Yuk Je, Angel, Ramiro, and Krestor, and Tove, Anker, and Iben.
The only question about 1899 and whether it is a loose imagining of Dante’s vision of Hell in Dante’s Inferno is who is Satan and who is God? So many of the characters are sinners who have secrets to hide. Maura has already been compared to God the Creator in this world. If she is God, is Eliot Jesus? He was resurrected and has God-like abilities within the simulations. What might he have out of them if he can ever leave? The one thing we can say for sure is that 1899 is not the only place or time Maura will have to wake up from. The simulations are only getting started.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.