Dante's the Inferno and the Theme of Contrapassp

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The thirteenth canto of Dante’s The Inferno clearly depicts several of the different themes that can be seen throughout the poem. Some of these themes are the idea of contrapasso, or the notion that the punishment dealt fits the crime committed, the portrayal of Hell as being devoid of hope, and the importance of fame. The images and language Dante uses to describe his experiences in the middle ring of the seventh circle of Hell, which houses the suicides, provide the reader with the feeling of despair and hopelessness present throughout the text, while also serving to show the idea of contrapasso and the underlying importance of fame.

The seventh ring of Hell is occupied by the souls of people who took their own lives. Their punishment is that they become trees and shrubs on which the harpies feed. As the harpies tear their leaves and branches, the souls suffer pain and bleed. But on the other hand, they cannot speak unless they shed blood. The Harpies “give pain and to that pain a mouth” (101-102). Dante, when seeing this for the first time, describes it “As a green log, burning at one end, that blisters and hisses at the other, with the rush of sap and air, so from the broken splinter oozed blood and words together” (40-44). The reader learns from the soul of Pier della Vigna that when an individual kills themselves, their soul falls into the seventh circle and roots itself, from there growing into a “wild thicket” (100).

But this is not the full extent of their punishment. We learn from Pier’s soul that among all the souls in Hell, the suicides will not be able to reclaim their bodies on judgment day. The justification is that those who so freely gave up their bodies should not be allowed to gain it back. They denied their God-given gift, and this wish to reject their bodies will be carried out even in death. They will go to claim their corporeal forms, but rather than gain it back, Pier states each soul will “drag it, and in this dismal wood...
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