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Inferno Essay, Research Paper
The Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s poem, The Divine Comedy, written roughly around 1307-1308 chronicles Dante’s figurative journey to God. In this poem, Dante is led by the ghost of Virgil, the Roman poet, who has come to rescue him from he dark forest and to lead him through the realms of the afterlife. Geoffrey Chaucer, who emerged as the leading poet in English literature during the late fourteenth century, some fifty years after Dante s supremacy as the primary bard, brought forth the creation of The Canterbury Tales. This compilation of twenty-four tales begins with a general introduction of each of the pilgrims making their journey to Canterbury to the shrine of Thomas a Becket. Although the latter work drew its inspiration from Dante s Inferno, the two works exhibit two distinct approaches to human transgressions.
Dante’s vision in The Inferno expresses his personal experience, conveying his interpretation of the nature of human existence. He takes the reader through the dark, and ghastly depths of hell using very striking, and grotesque imagery. Writing in the first person, he enables the reader to identify, to deeply understand the truths he wished to share about the meaning of life and man’s relationship with God, and to follow his spiritual search of personal salvation. Dante uncovers theological truths the reality of God, his love, and man’s freedom of choice along the way of his journey. He shows life as a pilgrimage of the soul, which has lost its way, on its path to God. This path becomes frighteningly real as he enters hell and on his way, he encounters many who have chosen greed, lust, or have given into other human vices and turned away from God. Although this inner exploration proves to be a difficult one, full of temptations, disappointment and questions, Dante perseveres, realizing that he must face evil and rise above the iniquity of sin to come within the reach of the promise that is found in Heaven as they catch sight of the stars, a symbol of divine order and hope.
Dante’s relationship with God, which portrays the experience of a deeply committed Christian, is evidenced throughout The Inferno. At the time he completed his work, this commitment to Christianity and the sense of duty to lead a morally pure life were religiously upheld by the current medieval society. The spiritual belief that those who insist on denying God’s Will or those who give in to sinful temptation and die unrepentant are eternally damned, makes Dante’s Inferno a religious and morally challenging experience.
Dante s work, even though called the Divine Comedy , is not intended to be humorous. From the multitude of different stories in Inferno, including the cantos III, VII, and XIX, a major theme repeatedly emerges the eternal justice of God, which gives each sinner his due by perfecting the sins that he committed in life and thus makes the punishment always fit the crime.
Already in the opening cantos of the Inferno, when Virgil leads Dante up to the Gate of Hell, where they read a foreboding inscription: Through me the way into the suffering city, through me the way to the eternal pain, through me the way that runs among the lost. Justice urged on my High Artificer; my Maker was Divine Authority, the Highest Wisdom, and the Primal Love. Before me nothing but eternal things were made, and I endure eternally. Abandon every hope, who enter here , (Inferno, Canto III, lines 1-9) the reader is given the first taste of the nature of Dante s Hell its hopelessness and its absoluteness.
In canto VII, there were spirits that danced an infernal round while endlessly pushing around great weights. Divided into two groups, one shouted, “Why do you hoard?” and the other, “Who do you squander?” Examining the spectacle, Dante noticed that many of them appeared to be tonsured clerics. Half of these people, who had spent without measure , had been miserly and the others had squandered their wealth. Many of the misers were indeed “clergymen, and popes and cardinals, within whom avarice works its excess . The undiscerning life that made them filthy now renders them unrecognizable , (Inferno, Canto VII, lines 46-54) clarified Virgil, concerning the existence of the shadowy mass of these spirits, implying that this sight should make the wrong in putting too much importance in money apparent.
Although Church officials supposedly had a privileged relation to the divine will, in practice, as reflected in history and the Inferno alike, they were prone to usual human failings. Evidently, the status of the Church as a financial power as well as a moral institution was not entirely without conflict, as we can see from Dante’s indignant tone in Canto VII. The fact that the tonsured spirits are unrecognizable extends the offense to all deceased clergymen who are not specifically mentioned in other parts of the comedy. Dante s personal opposition of the Pope accentuated his sensitivity, revealed in his work, about the Church as a secular power. Dante addresses a serious matter of corruption within the Catholic Church and renders his remorseless view through grave illustrations.
As the Inferno progresses towards the deeper parts of hell, Dante s disapproval of the existing conditions within the Church strengthens, building up to a severe censure in Canto XIX. This passage opens with a condemnation of the Simonists, followers of Simon Magus . Here, Dante and Virgil come to one of the sections of Malebolge, where a livid rock was perforated by large holes, in which the sinners are buried upside down, desperately wriggling their burning feet in the air. Approaching one of the sinners who seems to be tormented more than the rest, Dante is surprised to hear himself addressed as Boniface. Explaining despairingly that he had been Pope, and was damned for his avarice and his simonical practices, the speaker, in turn, expected Pope Boniface to join him there in punishment as well, as would his successor, “a lawless shepherd from the west .
Dante was beside himself at the extent of the corruption of the Church, the ostensible etalon of human spirit, in this scathing invective, that he had the courage to attack the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Nicholas III, and all other simonical popes at a time when the Church amassed its power. Their punishment being buried upside down was kept consistent with their sin on earth. Dante accused them of trampling on the good and lifting up the wicked.
Writing some fifty years after Dante completed his work, Geoffrey Chaucer was exposed to a thawing of the Medieval Religiosity. This change in spiritual attitude is reflected in Theodore Spencer s sketch of the times: At the end of the thirteenth century, Jesus is not seen as a stern judge, but rather as a suffering human being; He is no longer above humanity, He is on the same level, a man for whose pains a human sympathy and pity can be felt. As a product of its time, The Canterbury Tales reflects a lighter outlook on human nature its virtues and vices in relation to its repercussions. Chaucer’s pilgrims to Canterbury, form a colorful range of society with all its strengths and shortcomings, allowing for vast differences in tone and in substance. Thus, with no single dominant literary genre The Canterbury Tales, include romantic adventures, fabliaux, saint’s biographies, animal fables, religious allegories and even a sermon, and range in tone from pious, moralistic tales to lewd and vulgar sexual farces.
The Shipman s tale, a story taken from familiar legends, like the others, is scandalously humorous and pokes fun at other characters, including Church officials, who are on the pilgrimage. It is a story, in which a merchant s wife commits adultery on her husband with a visiting monk, who ultimately deceives her as well. The overriding concern of the Shipman’s Tale revolves around money and its relationship with sex. The story uses terms relating to business and financial transactions in reference to all of the sexual dealings of this story, and money is found to be virtually interchangeable with sex. The wife agrees to have an affair with Dan John, the monk, as a business transaction, and she claims at the end that she will repay her debt to her husband in bed.
There is no instance at which the story stops to condemn the wife for her actions by finding them the equivalent of prostitution. The text merely constructs the parallels between sex and business as a natural and acceptable fact. As Theodore Spencer extracts the essence of this: There is no enduring moral validity the stories are merely illustrations of the false wheel of Fortune; there is no emphasis on the will. We see what Fortune does, how proud men are brought to misery, and we may sigh and pity them, but there is nothing to be done about it; and there is nothing to be done about it if similar misfortunes should happen to ourselves.
Although the Shipman’s Tale appears to fit the proper definition of fabliaux , it exhibits instead the tone of a light comic anecdote. There is no moment in which the infidelity of the merchant s wife is revealed, and no character suffers for his behavior. The plot of the tale has a perfectly symmetric structure the money that changes hands finally returns to the proper source, without the husband knowing the particular circumstances of this interaction that accentuates the humor of the story.
The Parson s Tale further reflects the humor with which Chaucer both presents and perceives human vices. The only truly devout churchman in the company, the Parson, is, in essence, everything that the other Church officials the Monk, the Friar, and the Pardoner who are shamelessly immoral, are not. The Parson is a man devoted to his congregation, decent and principled and Chaucer is clearly including him in this company for the sake of contrast. The subtext in all of Chaucer’s praise for the Parson is that he is duller than the more corrupt churchmen. As the last tale of the manuscript, addressing a grave religious subject, the Parson s Tale becomes ironic for the situation. The Parson refuses to tell a foolish story, for Paul advised against telling false stories. He says that he will tell a virtuous tale in prose. His account becomes a description of the Seven Deadly Sins and seems to be the Parson’s way of frustrating the Host, who appears to be eager to hear another idle tale. Alongside the Host s frustration with the Parson s Tale, Chaucer s own voice emerges. Its much more worldly, and more sarcastic connotation brings out satire and humor throughout the Canterbury Tales.
Geoffrey Chaucer writes a human comedy in place of a divine one, repeatedly questioning and challenging Dante s pretense to truth and authority. Unlike Dante, Chaucer does not wish to make us live or pray better, rather, he wants to enable us to think more clearly about our human nature. According to a literary critic, Condren, the Canterbury Tales reveals Chaucer’s “evident love affair with the world he creates–a world he neither condemns, endorses, burdens with ideology, nor seeks to improve, but a world he shows as a dynamic, human, endlessly fascinating entity unto itself .
Whereas Chaucer s art lacks high seriousness , Dante s story is perhaps the most intensely shocking in literature , the moral terror of Dante shakes us so profusely. The comparison thus establishes that whereas Dante sees evil as being a catastrophic obstruction toward man’s attainment of the divine, and thus something to be taken very seriously, Chaucer accepts its human manifestations, presenting them in a more modern sense humorously and ironically.
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