I have heard that the quote “The Devil is not as black as he is painted.” is due to Dante. Can someone please provide me a with a reference for this? I am guessing that it is somewhere in the Divine Comedy.

  • Weird, looking up the quote finds it attributed to Inferno, but searching multiple texts of it I can’t find where it’s said. Might be from something else but misattributed. Commented Jul 27, 2019 at 17:28
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    Try Franco Sacchetti, Il Trecentonovelle ("il diavolo non è nero come si dipigne".)
    – Mick
    Commented Jul 27, 2019 at 17:38
  • 2
    @Mick Could you please expand that information a bit so you can post it as an answer?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jul 27, 2019 at 18:14
  • @ChristopheStrobbe Not really. I simply used Google Translate to translate Mishel's quote into Italian, and used that to find the text. I have no actual expertise. If anyone wants to run with it, feel free.
    – Mick
    Commented Jul 27, 2019 at 18:20
  • The only time that a black devil is mentioned in the Divine Comedy seems to be Canto XXI of the Vision of Hell, where it reads, “Behind me I discern'd a devil black, That running, up advanc'd along the rock. Ah! what fierce cruelty his look bespake!” But nothing about being less black than painted. (Quote from the Project Gutenberg text)
    – celtschk
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 4:39

1 Answer 1


If the quote comes from Dante, its most likely origin would be the first part, Inferno, from the Divine Comedy. The Italian text of the Divine Comedy or Divina Commedia is available online (also in several editions on Archive.org).

Searching for "nero" (black) inside the text of Inferno results in only one instance of the word near "diavol" (or "diavolo"), namely in Canto 21:

che, per veder, non indugia 'l partire:
e vidi dietro a noi un diavol nero
correndo su per lo scoglio venire.

In Henry F. Cary's translation, the last two lines of this stanza are translated as follows:

Behind me I discern'd a devil black,
That running up advanced along the rock.

This is just a devil, not the devil.

Someone pointed out in a comment that a translation of "the Devil is not as black as he is painted" can be found in Franco Sacchetti's 14th-century work Il Trecentonovelle:

il diavolo non è nero come si dipigne

(See dipingere in the Italian Wiktionary.) Franco Sacchetti lived from c. 1335 – c. 1400 and lived in Florence in Tuscany (although it is not clear whether he was actually born there). This makes him a bit younger than Dante, who lived from c. 1265 – 1321.

However, Sacchetti's words may have been a variation on a Tuscan proverb, if that proverb already existed at the time:

Non bisogna fare il diavolo più nero di quanto non sia.

Meaning: there is no need to make (or "paint") the devil more black than he is.

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