Inferno Contrapasso

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Hillary Stryker
ENGL 2201
Position Paper #3

In Dante’s Inferno, sinners in Hell are punished according to the nature of their sin. Dante uses the concept of contrapasso, so that the punishment fits the crime of the sinners. Some sinners literally become the embodiment of their sins, while others become victims in the afterlife of the crimes they committed while living. In the Inferno, sinners aren’t just damned to Hell for eternity, but punished individually for the crimes that got them there.

In Canto 3, Contrapasso is illustrated in a subtle way. The individuals in this reside in the Anti-Inferno, punished not for sinning but for being neutral. They have lived without praise and without blame, living an undecided life without a relationship with God. Their “neutral” attitude is punished by forcing them to walk in a crowd following a banner. The banner symbolizes a leader, serving as a direct punishment for their indecisive nature. “Behind that banner trailed so long a file of people…” Additionally, Dante describes this section of Hell as “the city of desolation,” often viewed as meaning a sorrowful city. This further emphasizes Dante calling the souls “lost,” implying that they had no direction and are therefore punished for their indecisiveness.

In Canto 6, the sinners that reside there are guilty of gluttony. Gluttony means over-indulgence and over consumption of food, drunk, or intoxicants to the point of waste. In this Canto, there is a guardian named Cerberus. Cerberus is a 3-headed dog and is an image of gluttony with his 3 heads and 3 mouths, and is also a distortion of the Holy Trinity. Cerberus is described, “Just as a dog that barks with greedy hunger will then fall quiet when he gnaws his food.” The contrapasso in the Canto is that the sinners must lie in the muddy slime while they are constantly batter by rain, hail, sleet, and snow. In addition they are also clawed by Cerberus, the 3-headed dog and guardian of this Circle. The build of...
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