Inferno (Dante)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Dante, inferno, Dante's Inferno (disambiguation)

The Inferno is the first part of the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

Contents

Inferno

The poem begins on the night before Good Friday in the year 1300, "halfway along our life's path" (Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita), and so opens in medias res. Dante is thirty-five years old, half of the biblical life expectancy of 70 (Psalm 90:10), lost in a dark wood (perhaps, allegorically, contemplating suicide—as "wood" is figured in Canto XIII, and the mention of suicide is made in Canto I of Purgatorio with "This man has not yet seen his last evening; But, through his madness, was so close to it, That there was hardly time to turn about" implying that when Virgil came to him he was on the verge of suicide or morally passing the point of no return), assailed by beasts (a lion, a leopard, and a she-wolf—allegorical depictions of temptations towards sin) he cannot evade, and unable to find the "straight way" (diritta via) - also translatable as "right way" - to salvation (symbolized by the sun behind the mountain). Conscious that he is ruining himself and that he is falling into a "deep place" (basso loco) where the sun is silent ('l sol tace), Dante is at last rescued by Virgil, and the two of them begin their journey to the underworld. Each sin's punishment in Inferno is a contrapasso, a symbolic instance of poetic justice; for example, fortune-tellers have to walk forwards with their heads on backwards, unable to see what is ahead, because they tried to do so in life. Allegorically, the Inferno represents the Christian soul seeing sin for what it really is.

Dante passes through the gate of hell, which bears an inscription, the ninth (and final) line of which is the famous phrase "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate", or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here"<ref>There are many English translations of this famous line. Some examples include

Verbatim, the line translates as "Leave (lasciate) every (ogne) hope (speranza), ye (voi) that (ch') enter (intrate)." </ref> Before entering Hell completely, Dante and his guide see the Opportunists, souls of people who in life did nothing, neither for good nor evil (among these Dante recognizes either Pope Celestine V or Pontius Pilate; the text is ambiguous). Mixed with them are outcasts who took no side in the Rebellion of Angels. These souls are neither in Hell nor out of it, but reside on the shores of the Acheron, their punishment to eternally pursue a banner while pursued by wasps and hornets that continually sting them while maggots and other such insects drink their blood and tears. This symbolizes the sting of their conscience and the repugnance of sin.

Then Dante and Virgil reach the ferry that will take them across the river Acheron and to Hell. The ferry is piloted by Charon, who does not want to let Dante enter, for he is a living being. Virgil forces Charon to take him by means of another famous line Vuolsi così colà ove si puote (which translates to So it is wanted there where the power lies, referring to the fact that Dante is on his journey on divine grounds), but their passage across is undescribed since Dante faints and does not awake until he is on the other side.

The Circles of Hell

Virgil guides Dante through the nine circles of Hell. The circles are concentric, representing a gradual increase in wickedness, and culminating at the center of the earth, where Satan is held in bondage. Each circle's sinners are punished in a fashion fitting their crimes: each sinner is afflicted for all of eternity by the chief sin he committed. People who sinned but prayed for forgiveness before their deaths are found in Purgatory – where they labor to be free of their sins – not in Hell. Those in Hell are people who tried to justify their sins and are unrepentant. Furthermore, those in Hell have knowledge of the past and future, but not of the present. This is a joke on them in Dante's mind because after the Final Judgment, time ends; those in Hell would then know nothing. The nine circles are:

First Circle (Limbo)

Here reside the unbaptized and the virtuous pagans, who, though not sinful, did not accept Christ. They are not punished in an active sense, but rather grieve only their separation from God, without hope of reconciliation. The chief irony in this circle is that Limbo shares many characteristics with the Elysian Fields; thus the guiltless damned are punished by living in a deficient form of Heaven. Without baptism ("the portal of faith," Canto IV, l.36) they lacked the hope for something greater than rational minds can conceive. Limbo includes green fields and a castle, the dwelling place of the wisest men of antiquity, including Virgil himself, as well as the Islamic philosophers Averroes and Avicenna. In the castle Dante meets the poets Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan and the philosophers Socrates and Aristotle. Interestingly, he also sees Saladin in Limbo (Canto IV). Dante implies that all virtuous pagans find themselves here, although he later encounters two in heaven and one (Cato of Utica) in Purgatory.

Beyond the first circle, all of those condemned for active, deliberately willed sin are judged by Minos, who sentences each soul to one of the lower eight circles by wrapping his tail around himself a corresponding number of times. The lower circles are structured according to the classical (Aristotelian) conception of virtue and vice, so that they are grouped into the sins of incontinence, violence, and fraud (which for many commentators are represented by the leopard, lion, and she-wolf<ref>There is no general agreement on which animals represent the sins incontinence, violence, and fraud. Some see it as the she-wolf, lion, and leopard respectively, while others see it as the leopard, lion, and she-wolf respectively.</ref>). The sins of incontinence — weakness in controlling one's desires and natural urges — are the mildest among them, and, correspondingly, appear first:

Second Circle

Those overcome by lust are punished in this circle. They are the first ones to be truly punished in Hell. These souls are blown about to and fro by a violent storm, without hope of rest. This symbolizes the power of lust to blow one about needlessly and aimlessly. In this circle, Dante sees Semiramis, Dido, Cleopatra, Achilles, and many others who were overcome by sensual love during their life. Dante is informed by Francesca da Rimini of how she and her husband's brother Paolo committed adultery and died a violent death at the hands of her husband (Canto V).

Third Circle

Cerberus guards the gluttons, forced to lie in a vile slush made by freezing rain, black snow, and hail. This symbolizes the garbage that the gluttons made of their lives on earth, slavering over food. Dante converses with a Florentine contemporary identified as Ciacco ("Hog" — probably a nickname) regarding strife in Florence and the fate of prominent Florentines (Canto VI).

Fourth Circle

Those whose attitude toward material goods deviated from the desired mean are punished in this circle. They include the avaricious or miserly, who hoarded possessions, and the prodigal, who squandered them. Guarded by Plutus, the miserly group pushes great rocks towards the center of the circle; the wasters must take the rocks back to their own side of the circle (Canto VII). This is an antithetical punishment; the sinners must do the opposite of the actions they carried out in life. (In Gustave Doré's illustrations for this scene, the damned push huge money bags.)

Fifth Circle

In the swamp-like water of the river Styx, the wrathful fight each other on the surface, and the sullen or slothful lie gurgling beneath the water. Phlegyas reluctantly transports Dante and Virgil across the Styx in his skiff. On the way they are accosted by Filippo Argenti, a Black Guelph from a prominent family (Cantos VII and VIII).

The lower parts of hell are contained within the walls of the city of Dis, which is itself surrounded by the Stygian marsh. Punished within Dis are active (rather than passive) sins. The walls of Dis are guarded by fallen angels. Virgil is unable to convince them to let Dante and him enter, and the Furies and Medusa threaten Dante. An angel sent from Heaven secures entry for the poets (Cantos VIII and IX).

Sixth Circle

Heretics are trapped in flaming tombs. Dante holds discourse with a pair of Florentines in one of the tombs: Farinata degli Uberti, a Ghibelline; and Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti, a Guelph who was the father of Dante's friend and fellow poet Guido Cavalcanti (Cantos X and XI). The followers of Epicurus are also located here (Canto X).

Seventh Circle

This circle houses the violent. Its entry is guarded by the Minotaur, and it is divided into three rings:

  • Outer ring, housing the violent against people and property, who are immersed in Phlegethon, a river of boiling blood, to a level commensurate with their sins. The Centaurs, commanded by Chiron, patrol the ring, firing arrows into those trying to escape. The centaur Nessus guides the poets along Phlegethon and across a ford in the river (Canto XII). This passage may have been influenced by the early medieval Visio Karoli Grossi.

The punishment of immersion was not typically ascribed in Dante's age to the violent, but the Visio attaches it to those who facere praelia et homicidia et rapinas pro cupiditate terrena ("make battle and murder and rapine because of worldly cupidity"). Theodore Silverstein (1936), "Inferno, XII, 100–126, and the Visio Karoli Crassi," Modern Language Notes, 51:7, 449–452, and ibid. (1939), "The Throne of the Emperor Henry in Dante's Paradise and the Mediaeval Conception of Christian Kingship," Harvard Theological Review, 32:2, 115–129, suggests that Dante's interest in contemporary politics would have attracted him to a piece like the Visio. Its popularity assures that Dante would have had access to it. Jacques Le Goff, Goldhammer, Arthur, tr. (1986), The Birth of Purgatory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0 226 47083 0), states definitively that ("we know [that]") Dante read it.

  • Middle ring: In this ring are the suicides, who are transformed into gnarled thorny bushes and trees. They are torn at by the Harpies. Unique among the dead, the suicides will not be bodily resurrected after the final judgment, having given their bodies away through suicide. Instead they will maintain their bushy form, with their own corpses hanging from the limbs. Dante breaks a twig off one of the bushes and hears the tale of Pier delle Vigne, who committed suicide after falling out of favor with Emperor Frederick II. The other residents of this ring are the profligates, who destroyed their lives by destroying the means by which life is sustained (i.e. money and property). They are perpetually chased by ferocious dogs through the thorny undergrowth. (Canto XIII) The trees are a metaphor; in life the only way of the relief of suffering was through pain (i.e. suicide) and in Hell, the only form of relief of the suffering is through pain (breaking of the limbs to bleed).
  • Inner ring: The violent against God (blasphemers), the violent against nature (sodomites), and the violent against order (usurers), all reside in a desert of flaming sand with fiery flakes raining from the sky. The blasphemers lie on the sand, the usurers sit, and the sodomites wander about in groups. Dante converses with two Florentine sodomites from different groups. One of them is Dante's mentor, Brunetto Latini. Dante is very surprised and touched by this encounter and shows Brunetto great respect for what he has taught him. The other is Iacopo Rusticucci, a politician. (Cantos XIV through XVI) Those punished here for usury include Florentines Catello di Rosso Gianfigliazzi, Ciappo Ubriachi, and Giovanni di Buiamonte, and Paduans Reginaldo degli Scrovegni and Vitaliano di Iacopo Vitaliani.
Eighth Circle

The last two circles of Hell punish sins that involve conscious fraud or treachery. The circles can be reached only by descending a vast cliff, which Dante and Virgil do on the back of Geryon, a winged monster represented by Dante as having the face of an honest man and a body that ends in a scorpion-like stinger (Canto XVII).

The fraudulent—those guilty of deliberate, knowing evil—are located in a circle named Malebolge ("Evil Pockets"), divided into ten bolgie, or ditches of stone, with bridges spanning the ditches:

  • Bolgia 1: Panderers (pimps) and seducers march in separate lines in opposite directions, whipped by demons. Just as they misled others in life, they are driven to march by demons for all eternity. In the group of panderers the poets notice Venedico Caccianemico, who sold his own sister to the Marchese d'Este, and in the group of seducers Virgil points out Jason (Canto XVIII).
  • Bolgia 2: Flatterers are steeped in human excrement. This is because their flatteries on earth were nothing but "a load of excrement" (Canto XVIII).
  • Bolgia 3: Those who committed simony are placed head-first in holes in the rock, with flames burning on the soles of their feet (resembling an inverted baptism). One of them, Pope Nicholas III, denounces as simonists two of his successors, Pope Boniface VIII and Pope Clement V (Canto XIX).
  • Bolgia 4: Sorcerers and false prophets have their heads twisted around on their bodies backward. In addition, they cry so many tears that they cannot see. This is symbolic because these people tried to see into the future by forbidden means (and possibly retribution for the delusions they concocted that probably led their followers to their own perils); thus in Hell they can only see what is behind them and cannot see forward (Canto XX).
  • Bolgia 5: Corrupt politicians (barrators) are immersed in a lake of boiling pitch, which represents the sticky fingers and dark secrets of their corrupt deals. They are guarded by devils called the Malebranche ("Evil Claws"). Their leader, Malacoda ("Evil Tail"), assigns a troop to escort Virgil and Dante to the next bridge. The troop hook and torment one of the sinners (identified by early commentators as Ciampolo), who names some Italian grafters and then tricks the Malebranche in order to escape back into the pitch. (Cantos XXI through XXIII)
  • Bolgia 6: The bridge over this bolgia is broken: the poets climb down into it and find the Hypocrites listlessly walking along wearing gilded lead cloaks. Dante speaks with Catalano and Loderingo, members of the Jovial Friars. It is also ironic in this canto that while in the company of hypocrites, the poets also discover that the guardians of the fraudulent (the malebranche) are hypocrites themselves, as they find that they have lied to them, giving false directions, when at the same time they are punishing liars for similar sins. (Canto XXIII)
  • Bolgia 7: Thieves, guarded by the centaur (as Dante describes him) Cacus, are pursued and bitten by snakes and lizards. The snake bites make them undergo various transformations, with some resurrected after being turned to ashes, some mutating into new creatures, and still others exchanging natures with the reptiles, becoming lizards themselves that chase the other thieves in turn. Just as the thieves stole other people's substance in life, and because thievery is reptilian in its secrecy, the thieves' substance is eaten away by reptiles and their bodies are constantly stolen by other thieves. (Cantos XXIV and XXV)
  • Bolgia 8: Fraudulent advisors are encased in individual flames. Dante includes Ulysses and Diomedes together here for their role in the Trojan War. Ulysses tells the tale of his fatal final voyage (an invention of Dante's), where he left his home and family to sail to the end of the Earth. He equated life as a pursuit of knowledge that humanity can attain through effort, and in his search God sank his ship outside of Mount Purgatory. This symbolizes the inability of the individual to carve out one's own salvation. Instead, one must be totally subservient to the will of God and realize the inability of one to be a God unto oneself. Guido da Montefeltro recounts how his advice to Pope Boniface VIII resulted in his damnation, despite Boniface's promise of absolution. (Cantos XXVI and XXVII)
  • Bolgia 9: A sword-wielding demon hacks at the sowers of discord. As they make their rounds the wounds heal, only to have the demon tear apart their bodies again. "See how I rend myself! How mutilated, see, is Mahomet; In front of me doth Ali weeping go, Cleft in the face from forelock unto chin; And all the others whom thou here beholdest, Disseminators of scandal and of schism. While living were, and therefore are cleft thus." Muhammad tells Dante to warn the schismatic and heretic Fra Dolcino (Cantos XXVIII and XXIX). Dante writes of Muhammad as a schismatic,<ref>Wallace Fowlie, A Reading of Dante's Inferno, University Of Chicago Press, 1981, p. 178.</ref><ref>Dorothy L. Sayers, Inferno, notes on Canto XXVIII.</ref> apparently viewing Islam as an off-shoot from Christianity, and similarly Dante seems to condemn Ali for schism between Sunni and Shiite.
  • Bolgia 10: Here various sorts of falsifiers (alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and impersonators), who are a disease on society, are themselves afflicted with different types of diseases (Cantos XXIX and XXX). Potiphar's wife is briefly mentioned here for her false accusation of Joseph. In the notes on her translation, Dorothy L. Sayers remarks that Malebolge "began with the sale of the sexual relationship, and went on to the sale of Church and State; now, the very money is itself corrupted, every affirmation has become perjury, and every identity a lie; no medium of exchange remains."<ref>Dorothy L. Sayers, Inferno, notes on Canto XXIX.</ref>
Ninth Circle

The Ninth Circle is ringed by classical and Biblical giants. The giants are standing either on, or on a ledge above, the ninth circle of Hell, and are visible from the waist up at the ninth circle of the Malebolge. The giant Antaeus lowers Dante and Virgil into the pit that forms the ninth circle of Hell. (Canto XXXI) Traitors, distinguished from the "merely" fraudulent in that their acts involve betraying one in a special relationship to the betrayer, are frozen in a lake of ice known as Cocytus. Each group of traitors is encased in ice to a different depth, ranging from only the waist down to complete immersion. The circle is divided into four concentric zones:

  • Round 1: Caïna, named for Cain, is home to traitors to their kindred. The souls here are immersed in the ice up to their necks. (Canto XXXII)
  • Round 2: Antenora is named for Antenor of Troy, who according to medieval tradition betrayed his city to the Greeks. Traitors to political entities, such as party, city, or country, are located here. Count Ugolino pauses from gnawing on the head of his rival Archbishop Ruggieri to describe how Ruggieri imprisoned and starved him and his children. The souls here are immersed at almost the same level as those in Caïna, except they are unable to bend their necks. (Cantos XXXII and XXXIII)
  • Round 3: Ptolomæa is probably named for Ptolemy, the captain of Jericho, who invited Simon Maccabaeus and his sons to a banquet and then killed them. Traitors to their guests are punished here. Fra Alberigo explains that sometimes a soul falls here before the time that Atropos (the Fate who cuts the thread of life) should send it. Their bodies on Earth are immediately possessed by a fiend. The souls here are immersed so much that only half of their faces are visible. As they cry, their tears freeze and seal their eyes shut–they are denied even the comfort of tears. (Canto XXXIII)
  • Round 4: Judecca, named for Judas the Iscariot, Biblical betrayer of Christ, is for traitors to their lords and benefactors. All of the sinners punished within are completely encapsulated in ice, distorted to all conceivable positions.

Dante and Virgil, with no one to talk to, quickly move on to the center of hell. Condemned to the very center of hell for committing the ultimate sin (treachery against God) is Satan, who has three faces, one red, one black, and one a pale yellow, each having a mouth that chews on a prominent traitor. Satan himself is represented as a giant, terrifying beast, weeping tears from his six eyes, which mix with the traitors' blood sickeningly. He is waist deep in ice, and beats his six wings as if trying to escape, but the icy wind that emanates only further ensures his imprisonment (as well as that of the others in the ring). The sinners in the mouths of Satan are Brutus and Cassius in the left and right mouths, respectively. They were involved in the assassination of Julius Caesar—an act which, to Dante, represented the destruction of a unified Italy. In the central, most vicious mouth is Judas Iscariot—the namesake of this zone and the betrayer of Jesus. Judas is being administered the most horrifying torture of the three traitors, his head in the mouth of Lucifer, and his back being forever skinned by the claws of Lucifer. (Canto XXXIV) What is seen here is a perverted trinity. Satan is impotent, ignorant, and evil while God can be attributed as the opposite: all powerful, all knowing, and good. The two poets escape by climbing down the ragged fur of Lucifer, passing through the center of the earth, emerging in the other hemisphere just before dawn on Easter Sunday beneath a sky studded with stars.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Inferno (Dante)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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