Imagine a place where tyrants stand up to their ears in boiling blood, the gluttonous experience monsoons of human filth, and those who commit sins of the flesh are blown about like pieces of paper in a never-ending wind storm. Welcome to Dante's Inferno, his perspective on the appropriate punishments for those who are destined to hell for all eternity. Dante attempts to make the punishments fit the crimes, but because it is Dante dealing out the tortures and not God, the punishments will never be perfect because by nature, man is an imperfect creature. Only God is capable of being above reproach and of metering out a just punishment. While Dante's treatment towards the tyrants is fitting, his views on the inhabitants of the Ante Inferno and Limbo seem to be backwards and these poor people are doomed to suffer misguided punishments. Therefore, despite Dante's best attempts to justly punish each sinner, he makes a few mistakes because he is not God and Dante is unable to unbiasedly judge each sinner.
If you were to attempt a journey through Hell, the first unlucky hellions you would encounter are the inhabitants of the Ante Inferno. The residents of this "not quite heaven, not quite hell" domain were placed here because while living, they chose to neither side with God nor with the Devil. By choosing neither good nor evil, these people sinned because they never chose to live by a set of Christian ideals. The punishment for these sinners is to constantly chase a white flag. The color of the flag symbolizes the blank and empty life the sinners led because they did not choose to follow God. The sinners are also bitten by wasps because in real life, they were never forced into any type of moral decision, so in the Ante Inferno, the wasps sting them and force them to chase the white flag. While the ordeal these sinners face seems entirely appropriate, their physical location in hell, or lack there of, is what makes their punishment wrong. This becomes very obvious when the punishment for those in Limbo is considered.
Limbo is the First Circle of Hell and it is the final resting place for the people who died before the birth of Christianity or who were never baptized. Notable figures like Moses and Noah are former residents of Limbo, until Christ granted them a pardon. Virgil resides in Limbo and has been given a temporary leave of absence to guide Dante through Hell because Beatrice, Dante's former love who holds a high place in heaven, is worried that he is headed on the path towards Hell. Dante shows pity for those who are stuck in Limbo because as Virgil describes,
"Some lived before the Christian faith, so that
They did not worship God aright - and I
Am one of these. Through this, no other fault,
We are lost, afflicted only this one way:
That having no hope, we live in longing"(Canto IV 28-32).
Dante is said to be seized with "heartfelt grief" (Canto IV 33) after hearing this, but no pity is supposed to be felt towards sinners who are receiving just punishments. But how just is it that people who never knew the word of Christ and had no knowledge of Heaven or Hell are sentenced to Hell? It is not a fair punishment to doom those unlucky enough to be born before Christianity to Hell when they were not given a fair chance to learn how to gain entrance to Heaven, especially when you consider that those living in the Ante Inferno were perfectly aware of God and knew the consequences of not living a Christian life. Knowing about God and simply ignoring him seems to be a worse crime than being born before Christ. Perhaps some of the residents of Limbo may have ended up in Hell had they know about Christianity, but some may not have. The people in Limbo were never given the choice to live a life with God, so their punishment and placement in Hell should be less severe than the people who ignored their chance to gain entrance to Heaven.
If Limbo and the Ante Inferno could...
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