Hist 101 A/ Mr. David Purvis
17 April 2013
Dante’s Inferno, originally written in Italian, is a narrative poem that opens on the evening of Good Friday in 1300. The poem takes you on a journey that documents Dante’s trip through the underworld, also known as hell to Heaven. During the poem Dante is guided by Virgil, who is the ghost of the great Roman poet, through the gates of hell then up to Heaven where he will be united with his love Beatrice. The poem begins with Dante traveling through the dark wood when he suddenly lost his way, and begins to become filled with fear while roaming through the dark forest. However there is a ray of hope as the sun shines down from above illuminating a mountain. Dante starts to travel up to the mountaintop where he is then met by three beasts that were blocking his path. The three beasts were a lion, a leopard, and she-wolf. Each of these beasts seems to symbolize one of the seven deadly sins that were inspired by the Christians of the medieval time period. The lion symbolized pride, the leopard symbolized lust and the she-wolf symbolized greed. Being terrified Dante turns back into the dark wood where he is met by Virgil. This is where his journey would begin through the gates of hell. However, in the beginning Dante feels nervous and unworthy as he states, “But why should I go there? Who allows it? /I am not Aeneas, nor am I Paul. /Neither I nor any think me fit for this” (Cantos II: 31-33). Virgil tries to calm Dante’s never when he informs Dante that his love Beatrice sent him to guide Dante by stating” I who bide you go am Beatrice. /I come from where I most desire to return. The love that moved me makes me speak” (Cantos II: 70-72). As Virgil leads Dante through the gates of Hell, there gates are inscribed with a haunting scripture, “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE” (1424). While entering the gates of hell, Dante will journey through the nine rings, circles, with each circle representing a different sin. However, when first entering the gates there was a region, called Ante-Inferno, where people’s souls resided that could not commit to either a life of sin or a life of righteousness. In other words you could say they were living the “gray” area. The First Circle of Hell was seen where those died without knowing Christ. This circle seemed to have composed of many souls that where in “limbo” and that of souls of great writers, even of his guide, Virgil. The Second Circle seemed to have represented the sin of Lust, where Dante watched the souls swirl around like a twister after the monster Minos condemns their souls to punishment. In the Second Circle, Dante also met Francesca, who tells of her doomed love affair with Paolo da Rimini from whom she committed adultery with as it was her husband’s brother. Moving on through hell to the Third Circle, where the sin glutton was symbolized, Dante illustrated where Gluttonous lies in a puddle of mud and endures a rain full of filth. The Fourth Circle, Dante meets Avaricious and Prodigal, and they are charging at one another carrying giant boulders. Journeying through the Fifth Circle lays the sin of wrathfulness. The Fifth Circle contained the swampy river, a cesspool, in which the souls spend their afterlife struggling with one another, and Sullen lies bound beneath the Styx’s waters chocking on mud. Prior to proceeding to the Sixth Circle, Virgil and Dante are met at the walls of the city of Dis, where demons refused to let them in. However, an angelic messenger sent down from Heaven forced the demons to open the gates before Dante. Once the gates were opened, Dante entered into the Sixth Circle of Hell where the Heretics resided. The next circle, Seventh Circle, contained different rings that led through a deep valley. The Seventh Circle was one that resided violence. It divided murders and tyrants, to blasphemers, sodomites, and Usurers. The First Ring was though of a violent nature souls of murders, or others, who committed violence on others, were destined to a boiling river of blood. In the Second Ring Dante found those who committed violence on themselves, such as suicides. The souls in the Second Ring were endured to a life in the form of trees. Going deeper into the Seventh Circle where the rings that contained the souls of Blasphemers, those violent to God; Sodomites, those violent toward Nature; and the Usurers, those violent toward Art. In the Ring of the Blasphemers lied a statue of an aged old man that seemed to facing west towards Rome as if to see if the city would become full of life once again. As Virgil and Dante enter into the Eighth Circle of Hell, the monster Geryon transports them across the great abyss. The Eighth Circle of Hell is also known as the Malebolge, or “evil pockets.” These pockets are separated by the great folds of earth. The First Pouch is where the Panderers and Seducers receive lashing from a whip; the Second is where the Flatterers lie in a river of human feces. In the Third Pouch there are Simoniacs that hang upside down where their feet burn with fire. In the Fourth Pouch there are Astrologists and Diviners who are forced to walk with their head on backwards, as if in shame in pity. Barrators, those who bribe and are frauds, are found in the Fifth Pouch where demons tear them apart. Then you have the Hypocrites in the Sixth Pouch, who forever walk in circles wearing heavy robes made of lead. The priest, Caiphas, who confirmed Jesus’ death sentence lie crucified on the ground as sinners tread on him as they walk. Thieves can be found in the Seventh Pouch trapped in a pit of vipers, and the thieves then become vipers themselves once bitten, and in order to regain the form of becoming a soul they must bite another thief in turn. In the Eighth Pouch, Dante speaks to Ulysses, who is doomed for eternity due to Spiritual Theft and for the role of executing the ruse of the Trojan Horse. In the Ninth Pouch, lies the soul of Sowers of Scandal and Schism, who are destined to walk in a circle with afflicted wounds that open and close repeatedly. Lastly the Tenth Pouch, is where you have liars, or Falsifiers who suffer from plagues and diseases. Lastly, while journeying into the Ninth Circle Virgil and Dante end up in the lowest region of hell, “the bottom of the well.” In the Ninth Circle of Hell the Rings portray those who were frozen up to their necks in the lake of Cocytus. These Rings portrayed those who have betrayed their guests and spend the rest of their eternity lying on their backs on top of the frozen lake, with their tears making blocks of ice over their eyes. And for those that betrayed their benefactors, they spent an eternity in submersion under the frozen lake. As Dante completed his journey through the Ninth Circle, he approached a three-headed giant monster Lucifer, who was waist-deep into the ice as he chewed one, three of history’s greatest sinners: Judas, betrayer of Christ, and Cassius and Brutus, betrayers of Julius Caesar. After encountering the monster of Lucifer, Virgil then leads Dante to the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness in order to travel out of Hell and back onto Earth just before sunrise on Easter morning. Reminding those of “Christ Has Risen.” The poem seems to serve as a guide to make readers analyze their morals. During the Medieval times, seen as times of darkness, this poem could have illustrated how to reach the gates of Heaven instead of the gates of Hell. He also wanted to illustrate how living a righteous life was imperative in the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church. The imprint that a reader receives on the journey through hell, makes you think that it could have possibly illustrated what would happen if people didn’t follow a religious, Godlike, life, and how they would end up if they continued to live through sin. The struggle of the Medieval times could especially be illustrated as Dante traveled through the Seventh Circle. In the Blasphemers Circle, the statue of the aged old man could be seen as the struggles that took place during the Medieval time period. In the Sodomites and Usurers Circles, which represent violence against Nature and Art, could be a portrayal of the Renaissance era when nature and humanism was affluent and that any act of violence would be seen as sin. When people choose to live a life through sin, they tend to get “lost,” just like Dante got lost in the darkness of the forest. A sinful life is dark, whereas a pure life is bright. This is why light shunned down on the top of the mountain to symbolize good, to symbolize Heaven. However, since Dante led a life where he had strayed away from his faith he had landed on the wrong path and had to find a way out hell.
Dante sought to face the obstacle of journeying through the nine circles of hell where he witnesses the suffering of sinners. This was a way for Dante to understand his own sins and make a way of cleansing his sins and journey on to God in Heaven. It was Dante’s way of realizing his development of becoming a spiritual being. During his journey through the fifth circle of hell, Dante states, “May you weep and wail, stuck here in this place forever, you damned soul,” (Cantos VIII: 37-38) as he witnesses firsthand the wrathful and scorns of a sinner. He begins to recognize the severity of committing and living a life of sin, and realizes that he must conquest over that which has him living through sin by living a life that aims for righteousness.
The moral of the poem is that hell is destined for those that choose to live an evil way of life. As people choose to live their life they must realize that it is a conscious choice on whether they will choose between Heaven and Hell. In order to consciously choose the right path to Heaven people must live a life of righteousness, washed away of their sins and become pure once again.
Alighieri, D., & Hollander, R. (2002). The Inferno. New York: Random House Inc.