Dante's and Milton's Hell

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Melodie Winston
Eng 432
Dr. Michael Sollars
October 31, 2011
Two Perspectives of Hell
Since the creation of human life there has been a battle of good versus evil. Before Christianity and non- religious or pagan culture believers often debated the ideology of heaven and “hell”. In defining “hell,” the Webster dictionary defines “hell” as a place or state of torment or destruction and the damned suffer eternal punishment. Hell has been an interest for many centuries, and according to some religions, Satan or the powers of evil live in “hell” and the spirits of all sinful people goes to hell after death. Those souls and/or people in hell are inflicted with eternal pain and misery. Hell over the century has been depicted by many authors in literary works. The Italian poet and writer, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), created a masterpiece in the form of an epic poem, Divine Comedy and Inferno is the first part of three parts written in the 14th century. He goes into great length to provide vivid images of hell. Inferno depicts the medieval Christianity beliefs of the Creator (God) and the consequences imposed on the human souls for their worldly actions. The English poet and civil servant, John Milton (1608-1674), also penned an epic poem, Paradise Lost in the 17th century. Milton often rebelled against the church and politics in England. He too included dramatic images of hell with literal interpretations. The epic poems Inferno and Paradise Lost examine the physical descriptions of hell, the location of hell, and the form of Satan. Dante Alighieri’s Inferno and John Milton’s Paradise Lost depict different images of hell. Alighieri’s Inferno shows detailed physical description of hell. Alighieri portrays hell as a graphic area or torture containing a structure of nine circles of hell. The first circle of hell is titled Limbo and is described as an area reserved for the unbaptized and virtuous pagans. Some familiar persons present at this level are Virgil, Homer, Ovid, Socrates, and Plato. The second circle of hell is called Lust and is the area reserved for souls blown about in a violent storm, without hope or rest. The familiar persons detained here are Francesca and his lover Paolo. The third circle is named Gluttony and Ciacco of Florence is here and forced to lie in vile, freezing slush, guarded by Ceberus. The fourth circle is labeled Avarice and Prodigality. Its occupants, the miserly and spendthrift, push great heavy weights together, crashing them time and time again; Plutus guards them. The fifth circle is entitled Wrath and Sullenness. The wrathful fight each other on the surface of the Styx while the sullen gurgle beneath it; Fillippo Argenti resides here. The sixth circle is marked Heresy. Heretics are trapped in flaming tombs. Florentines Farinata degli Uberti and Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti are here. Dante provides an example of hell’s depiction in the sixth circle:

. . . My flesh had not been long stripped off when she
had me descend through all the rings of Hell,
to draw a spirit back from Judas’ circle.3
That is the deepest and the darkest place,
The farthest from the heaven that girds all:
So rest assured,I know the pathway well.
This swamp that breeds and breaths the giant stench
Surrounds the cit of the sorrowing,
which now we cannot enter without anger (Dante Ln 25-32) The seventh circle of hell is named Violence. The violent against people and property is occupied by the suicides, the blasphemers, the sodomites, and the usurers. The eighth circle is entitle Fraud and designated for panderers and seducers, flatterers, sorcerers and false prophets, liars, thieves, and Ulysses and Diomedes. The ninth and final circle of hell is called Treachery. This ring is set aside for betrayers of special relationships and they are frozen in a lake of ice. Satan, Judas, Brutus, and Cassius are here. Dante’s personification of hell...
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