The Much-Fantasized Journey Through the Many Layers of Hell

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The amiable Mark Twain cleverly jokes, “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company”. Although this humorous quote can tickle the imagination and produce a genial chuckle, one might discover that there is an element of truth that can be observed in this statement. Everyone dies, that is a simple fact of life that must be acknowledged. The real question that lingers in the back corners of the mind is the next step after life. Is it Heaven or Hell? Shall the damned be cursed to wander throughout the scathing pits of Hell while the good be granted entrance into the heavenly pearly gates? The Throughout history, many authors and scholars have shared their own personal interpretations and thoughts on this speculation of Hell and Heaven. One recognized author is Dante Alighieri, an Italian poet who wrote a trilogy of books discussing the many themes of Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso). Of the three brilliant works written, Inferno can be established as the most intriguing as it addresses the mystery behind Hell, while leaving the mind yearning for more information to feed our eager imaginations.

In the timeless classic, Inferno, one of the three books that consist of The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, Dante Alighieri depicts in immense detail the many layers of Hell. Hell has been described as, “enclosed, and dark or artificially lighted, Hell has neither the cycles of day and night nor the cycle of the seasons; and changes of the weather are unknown up there,” (Fergusson 101). It is a true place of desolation and despair. Furthermore, Dante reveals not only the many inhabitants of these different circles, but the Guardians who patrol them as well. The Guardians are placed throughout Hell, ordered to keep the condemned souls in and the living souls out. Some are mythological creatures while others are merely previously deceased individuals forced to keep a vigilant watch on sinners. While at first glance these guardians seem to be spontaneously placed sporadically throughout the many layers of Hell, one will discover the many connections each guardian has with the circle he or she guards. In Dante’s Inferno, Hell is separated into nine descending circles, each representing a specific punishment for a sin. “Hell is divided into nine circles belonging to the three main categories and further subdivided by variations enclosed in each circle, but each overall plan presents a descending progression toward ever increasing guilt or corruption of the will,” (Lecker 29). As the reader travels through the Hell that Dante has formed from the depths of his imagination, an understanding to the placement of guardians and overall construction of Hell will begin to come together.

Throughout the beginning of the first few Cantos in Inferno, the character of Charon is introduced to the reader. Charon is the first guardian discussed in Inferno, described as being the ferryman of Hell. “Who fears not God Charon, demonic form, with eyes burning coal, collects them all,” (Alighieri, Cantos 2, 100-10). His job consists of carrying souls of the newly deceased across the rivers of Styx and Acheron. This passage which the damned souls are forced to take divides the world from the living and dead. Ultimately, Charon is the first interaction of Hell that Dante experiences in the book as described, “..they arrive at the river Acheron; and there find the old ferryman Charon, who takes the spirits over to the opposite shore,” (Alighien, Cantos II,73-75). In order to cross the river to gain entrance into Inferno, a coin is needed to pay Charon for passage. However, if a body had not been buried or if no such coin was had, that soul was forced to wander the shores of the rivers for one hundred years. For this reason, many corpses were buried with a coin placed on their tongue in attempts to avoid this grueling wandering. In Inferno, when Dante and his guide Virgil try to pass the river, Charon has an uproar after...
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