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I Read Dante’s Inferno For Hozier’s New Album – Here’s Why You Should Too

unreal unearth dante's inferno

This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s fall editorial intern Elizabeth Miller. Find them on Instagram at @Lizzy_7979. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at

Hozier fans! We have been blessed with another album from the bog man himself, and let me tell you, I feel like a new person. Every time I listen I notice something new and feel changed. When we learned that Unreal Unearth would be based on the Circles of Hell from The Divine Comedy, I knew I should read Inferno to prepare. I dove into summary and explanation videos and eventually found a translation I could make it through. Hozier has said that it is not necessary to read Inferno to enjoy the album, but I think my experience with the album has been greatly enhanced by reading Inferno, and I want to read it again to see if I pick up anything else I’ve forgotten since reading it. So, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” and let’s let Hozier lead us through Hell!

The Divine Comedy

Before we look at the songs, there are a few important things to point out about The Divine Comedy. First is the structure. The Divine Comedy is written in verse and has three main sections: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. The whole poem is split into 100 bite-sized sections, called cantos. Inferno has 34 cantos, and Purgatorio and Paradiso have 33 each. Few, that’s a lot of math!

Second is the context. The Divine Comedy can be analyzed through many different lenses or focuses, such as religion, politics, and history. Dante was exiled from Florence in retaliation for calling out corruption in the Catholic Church. He wrote The Divine Comedy while in exile. Not only does Dante make commentary on the Catholic faith, but he also criticizes religious and political leaders of his time and explains his reasoning by incorporating historical figures and using their placements in the afterlife as examples. And all while in poetry. Dante, I am wowed. 

So, considering these, I think it is important to remember that there are multiple ways the songs could be referring to Inferno. Some points may be really obvious, like what Circle or punishment the song corresponds to, and others may be more obscure, like an assumed perspective or feeling a character may feel. The beauty of this album is that there is no single thread, analysis or definition to explain it. It is malleable in meaning, and that allows for so many perspectives to connect to the songs. It is easy to say I have endless appreciation for this album.

That being said, here is a brief explanation of the songs, their Circles, and other Unreal Unearth Dante’s Inferno connections I made.

De Selby (Part 1) and De Selby (Part 2)

These two songs correspond with the beginning of Dante’s journey, starting outside the entrance to Hell. Dante wakes up in a forest, feeling astray from righteousness. De Selby (Part 1) both sounds disorienting like when you first wake up, and the lyrics talk about sleep, darkness, and being lost. Hozier also sings in Irish at the end of De Selby (Part 1), and the translated lyrics talk about night, transformation, and change. The transition between part 1 and part 2 is also fire.

In the forest, Dante is attacked by three beasts and comes across Virgil, an ancient poet, who agrees to protect him and lead him through Hell to both see the punishment and inspire him to find his way back to the path of righteousness. In De Selby (Part 2), Hozier, or the implied narrator talks about wanting to resist change and the truth when he sings, “Let me fade away,” “I wanna kill the lights / I want to run against the world that’s turning” and “I don’t need to know where we begin and end.” It could also be interpreted that we are standing before Hell, not sure what is to come and even resisting changing from what we know, but Hozier is there like Virgil to lead us on the journey.

De Selby is also a fictional character from The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien.

First Time – Circle One


Replying to @Maddie such a good start to the album #unrealunearth #hozier #hoziertiktok

♬ De Selby (Part 1) – Hozier

First Time corresponds to the first circle, Limbo, where the unbaptized, like Virgil, reside. Their “sin” is simple, and their punishment is just the lack of hope to have Heaven basically. Dante sees many historical figures and philosophers in Limbo, like Aristotle, Plato, and Euclid.

First Time has a sweetly simple feeling to it, from the limited instruments to the limited knowledge and perspective the narrator has. Each line is a discovery, and each chorus is a recognition of a pattern: “This life lived mostly underground / Unknowing either sight not sound” and “Some part of me must have died / Each time that you called me ‘baby.’” Like Dante, we are blissfully unaware of what is to come.

Francesca and I, Carrion (Icarian) – Circle Two

Eat Your Young GIF by Hozier - Find & Share on GIPHY

These songs deal with the second circle, the punishment for lust. These souls are swept up in eternal wind storms. Hozier talks about the story of Francesca in Canto 5 in many interviews. Francesca and her husband’s brother had an affair, so her husband killed them both. They do not regret their love, and Hozier captures this as the theme for the song.

I, Carrion (Icarian) is inspired by this circle and Icarus. The narrator talks to his lover while flying and falling, and mentions the dangerous winds that threaten him.

Eat Your Young – Circle Three

Eat Your Young is about the Circle of Gluttony. The punishment in this circle is wading in mud and sludge in a never-ending storm of rain, hail, and snow. This song is also a direct reference to A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift, a satirical essay suggesting the Irish poor eat their children so they don’t starve. The subject matter and inspiration make this song multifaceted, and it applies to multiple contexts just like The Divine Comedy.

Damage Gets Done – Circle Four

Circle four punishes the greedy. This song makes a few connections to it: “We know what our love was worth / Now we’re always missing something / I miss when we did not need much.”

Who We Are – Circle Five

Who We Are is about the wrathful who are punished in circle five. These souls are consumed by their anger. In the swampy River Styx, those above the water fight each other, and those below drown and choke. This song mentions both water and fighting: “To hold me like water / Or Christ, hold me like a knife,” “So much to the lives / Is just carvin’ through the dark.” I feel this song in my chest like it’s an angry and frustrated cry. It is amazing the power songs have.

Son of Nyx – A Transition Into The City Of Dis

Son of Nyx – A Transition Into The City Of Dis

The next circles are the lower circles of Hell, beyond the walls of the City of Dis. Son of Nyx combines hushed snippets of the melodies of the songs in Unreal Unearth. It is haunting, almost like a warning of the darkness below.

All Things End – Circle Six

Circle six punishes heretics in flaminging graves. Hozier says in the lyrics that it is difficult to take responsibility for being wrong, “I know we want this to go easy by being somebody’s fault,” and that understanding can be lost over time, “And all things end / All that we intend is built on sand / It slips right through our hand.”

All Things End GIF by Hozier - Find & Share on GIPHY

To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe) and Butchered Tongue – Circle Seven

Circle seven is split into three sections to punish the violent: violence against others, against oneself, and God and God’s creations.

To Someone From A Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe), I believe, deals with the first two sections. The narrator describes their lover and their needs, and wants to be with them, but knows they cannot support those needs. “Uiscenfhuaraithe” is “the feel of coldness only water brings,” and the narrator says, “I wish I could say / That the river of my arms have found the ocean / And I wish I could say the cold lake water of my heart / Christ, it’s boilin’ over.” 

Butchered Tongue mentions losing home through violence. “In some town that just means ‘Home’ to them / With no translator left to sound / A butchered tongue still singin’ here above the ground.” These lyrics talk about the loss of culture. Going back to Eat Your Young, Ireland has a long history of struggle, and Butchered Tongue acknowledges the loss over time, such as in the literal sense of the Irish language.

Anything But and Abstract (Psychopomp) – Circle Eight

Circle eight is the circle of fraud. There are many different distinct frauds, each with their own punishments. 

Anything But contains a lot of contradictory statements: “Look, I wanna be loud, so loud, I’m talking seismic / I wanna be soft as a single stone in a rainstick” or “I’d lower the world in a flood, or better yet I’d cause a drought.” This could reference the types of sins, like hypocrites or those that use flattery to exploit others. Other lyrics could reference the punishments themselves, most of which deal with demons torturing the souls and the sin of simony: “If I was a riptide, I wouldn’t take you out… If I was a stampede, you wouldn’t get a kick.” Dante makes commentary about indulgences in this section (paying the Church to forgive sins).

Abstract (Psychopomp) returns to the theme of change. To me, I feel like the song fits into fraud in a different way: a fear of being untrue to oneself. “Darling, there’s a part of me / I’m afraid will always be / Trapped within an abstract from a moment of my life.” This song looks at the question What if I don’t change?


Unknown / Nth reflects on having your heart broken by somebody you trusted. The ninth circle which the song recalls is the circle of treachery 💔 #UnrealUnearth #Unknown #Hozier #AltMusic

♬ Unknown / Nth – Hozier

Unknown / Nth – Circle Nine

The last song about a circle is Unknown / Nth, the circle of treachery. Souls are frozen from the waist down in a lake, and in the center is three-headed Satan, also struggling to get out of the ice. He beats his wings, sending cold winds that keep the lake frozen. Hozier has talked about this song in many interviews as well, explaining the different references he makes, such as how Satan chews on Judas, and in the song he says, “My heart lept from me, you smile now, and I can see its pieces still stick in your teeth.” The song has a similar but much darker and colder simplicity like First Time, matching the coldness of the circle. 

First Light – The End and Ascent

First Light sounds so hopeful, like awakening as a new person, “One bright morning changes all things… Could this be how every day begins?”  After seeing all of Hell, there is no way we are the same person we were stepping into the entrance of Hell. “After this, I’m never gonna be the same / And I am never going back again… Like I lived my whole life / Before the first light.” I cried when I first heard this song. Despite the fear, we have seen the truth, seen the light of morning we were running from in De Selby (Part 1) and changed.


there’s a lot of floating happening here, but it’s only appropriate #hozier #unrealunearth #hoziertok #andrewhozierbyrne

♬ original sound – h. gee ✧

After listening to this album, I feel full of new perspectives. What a beautiful work. There are even more references, both about Inferno and other books, that show just how much care went into the creation of this album. I’m so glad I read Inferno because I definitely would not have appreciated the songs as much. You can stream Unreal Unearth on all the popular streaming platforms.

What did you think about the album? What Unreal Unearth Dante’s Inferno connections did you find? Let us know in the comments below!

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