Dante's The Inferno and Interpretations of the Circles of Hell

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Ashley Boyle
Essay 2

Justice, Power, Love, Intellect: These are the driving forces behind the creation of eternal torment for crimes committed on Earth, according to Dante's God in The Inferno. At the beginning of Canto III, Ciardi’s summary of the law in Dante’s Hell is described as “the law of symbolic retribution. As they sinned so are they punished” (pg 17). In other words, let the punishment fit the crime. However, what does this say about Dante’s view of God? Is He a vengeful God, giving out harsh punishments to those who chose to resist Him in life? Or, does He give out eternal justice to individuals who failed on Earth? Somewhere within Dante’s version of Hell one may find the answer, but first it has to be taken into consideration how Hell is set up, how are the sinners are punished, and if it can be interpreted as a fair and just punishment. Then Dante’s God can be understood.

Dante’s The Inferno is his own interpretation of the circles of hell. Each of the nine circles of Hell represents a worse sin, and therefore, has its own unique and fitting punishment for the crime committed. There are three different main types of offenses; incontinence, violence, and fraud. These offenses are divided, starting with crimes of passion and ending with crimes of fraud. The self-centered crimes are in rings one through five, the violent crimes are held in rings six through eight, and ring nine holds the fraudulent criminals.

For the most part, the categorized punishments in Hell that Dante assigns are symbolically fair and representative of the sins committed on Earth, given the time period in which the poem was written. However, there are levels within Hell where the punishment doesn't exactly fit the crime and the crime doesn't exactly fit the punishment. For example, Limbo exists within the first circle of Hell and is filled with pagans and unbaptized children. Those who are in this level were never given the chance to learn about God’s love, and...
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