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The Raging Inferno Essay, Research Paper

Johnson, Brad#


Dante Alighieri was born in Florence, Italy in 1265. In his life, he composed two major books of poetry: Vita Nuova and The Divine Comedy. The Vita Nuova is composed of love poems, sonnets, and lyrics. The Divine Comedy, is an epic poem segmented into three books, each of which recounts Dante?s travels through hell, purgatory, and heaven. The first section of The Divine Comedy, Dante’s Inferno, is a narrative with a man named Virgil as his guide. Dante narrates his descent and observation of hell through the various circles. One part of this tale is his descriptions of the various punishments that each of the different sinners has received. The various punishments that Dante envisions the sinners receiving are broken down into two categories. The first category is borrowed from various forms of medieval torture and the second type, though less physically strenuous, are Dante’s creative and imaginative punishment for sins. The torturous forms of punishments create physical and bodily pain for the sinners and are designed to be interpreted literally; whereas, the creative punishments are used to inflict a mental and psychological pain and are suppose to be thought of on a more metaphorical plane of thought. However, the creative punishments can inflict both a mental and physical pain upon the sinner.

An example of this is the penalty the simonists, those who use their power in the church to acquire money , pay. There are two descriptions of tortures which are very similar to the punishment of the simonists. The first one included: a man to be chained down to a bare bed with his feet hanging off of the end, and then his feet would then be seared by a “charcoal brazier.” The second torture that is similar is the penalty of famed assassins upon conviction: to be buried head down alive. Dante seems to have fused the two punishments into that of the simonists. Dante describes their punishment as such:”Out of the mouth of each hole there emerged a sinner’s feet….both soles of every sinner were on fire writhing with violence.” Dante’s penalty for simony inflicts a severe physical pain, but was also designed this way for an alternative and ironic reason. When being baptized it is a common practice to dip babies, head first, under water to symbolically cleanse the soul.In the opposite fashion of the baptismal practice, the simonists were put head down into dark and narrow pits, as opposed to the open and refreshing holy water, and fire burns their feet and soul, rather than there heads and souls being cleansed by the holy water. Although Dante uses, and occasionally combines, various practices in order to inflict physical pain, sometimes famous acts of cruelty to punish the sinners are used .

One such punishment Dante borrows from the court of Emperor Frederick II. Frederick II was well-known for his lead capes with which he punished various criminals: He had a leaden cover made for the condemned man, to cover him entirely. The cover was about an inch thick. Then, he had the man placed in a cauldron, and the leaden cape put over him. Then he had a fire made under the cauldron. The heat melted the lead which took the skin off piece by piece. Finally, both the lead and the condemned man boiled. Dante used part of Frederick’s punishment to punish the hypocrites in hell. He places all of the hypocrites in “gilded” cloaks that “dazzled; but inside they were all of lead, so heavy that Frederick’s capes were straw compared to them.” Dante uses this analogy to Frederick to demonstrate the extent of cruelty of his cloaks in ?The Inferno? as well as those of Frederick’s. If Dante describes one of the most evil punishments ever, as mild compared to those in his Inferno, he effectively demonstrates how horrible hell truly is. Although this punishment for the hypocrites is physically painful, this punishment contains a unique metaphor.In Dante?s eyes, the hypocrites were those people who were seemingly pure and good, but beneath their facades they were quite sinful. The cloaks are a metaphor for the hypocritical characters: dazzling on the surface and cloaked in lead or sin underneath.

A sinner whose punishment was given with the intention of

creating mental anguish was flattery. While Dante is walking over a

bridge, he looks down and sees the sinners of flatterery “…plunged in excrement that seemed as if it had been poured from human privies.” Although this punishment is quite unsanitary and repulsive the punishment is designed to inflict a physical agony, in this case, of rolling in feces. Dante, however, always has reasons for punishing sinners as he does. In this case, it is ironic that the flatterers, whose mouths we always hear spewing rubbish in the form of flattery, now

sit immersed in it. Although this particular practice is more disgusting and vile than actually painful, Dante does use known practices of torture to inflict pain and anguish on the sinners.

In sum, examples of punishment that were physically agonizing

and caused bodily harm are only some of the punishments that

Dante borrowed from medieval forms of torture. These punishments

were meant to be interpreted literally. On the other hand,

Dante’s creative and more original punishments are symbolic and

interesting to study. These types of punishment rely more on symbolism; but still inflict physical and mental suffering. The more creative punishments for those who were”damned because they sinned within the flesh subjecting reason to the rule of lust.” The lustful, sinners , are condemned to swirl forever in “the hellish hurricane, which never rests.” The punishment for the lustful is both creative and simple. The lustful are swept up in a storm just as they were swept about in life by the storms of lust. Although the sinners experience a physical discomfort , the real punishment is mental: since these sinners are incapable of self-control, they are condemned to an eternal lack of self-control. This condemnation is an example of the difference between the literal and the more symbolic punishments of sinners.

By analyzing the two types of punishments that Dante has used, it is clearly shown how horrible hell truly is. The differences in the punishments can be viewed as a theme for ?The Inferno? . Not only is ?The Inferno? a combination of visions of hell (i.e. Ovid and Vergil) and original ideas, but ?The Inferno? is also a journey with elements both physical and mental aspects included in it. The physical tortures are #grim because of the extremes and the creative tortures are mentally depressing . The various punishments have all been designed to punish each sin through the law of counter penalty given by Dante. The two major differences in these punishments are; first there are differences in the origin of the idea for the punishment. Second, there is a difference in the intention of the punishment: to punish with mental or physical anguish. These differences add to the poem’s complexity and unexpected qualities about the poem.

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