Dante Alleghieri lived during the break of Renaissance and wrote “Inferno” in that tumultuous time when paradigm shifts in politics, economics and religious traditions were taking place. Although he lived and died centuries ago, his book remains one of the most successful creative rhetoric generations continue to decipher. This is so due to the work’s masterful presentation of Divine Justice. Through symbolisms, allegory and historical parallelisms, the author creates a sneak preview of what happens to a man’s soul in Hell as a consequence of his life on Earth.
As Dante and Virgil descend to Hell, they are able to meet tormented souls. The travelers are able to converse with these characters who narrate how they lived in sin during their lifetime. While these sinners narrate their past lives, the travelers observe how these sinners are punished. As the travelers descend to Hell, they witness the many different kinds of punishments that the sinners experience. In Canto XXIV, Virgil and Dante meets thieves, naked and entwined with serpents all around them. The serpents continuously bite and bind the thieves that immediately catch fire.
The sinners burn to ashes and from the ashes, the flesh is once again restored so that the serpents can bite them again. And the endless cycle of torment repeats itself. While Dante and Virgil moves on there are variations on the burning as both serpent and sinner exchange substances and transform into each other’s form horribly. The particular punishment fits the crime done on earth because symbolically, thieves are given parallelism to the snake that offered Eve the apple that made the first man and woman disobey God’s orders until they were banished from paradise.
Another Canto houses the gluttons. Gluttony is a mortal sin because as a person feeds on more than what he can chew, he is depriving another person his share of resources available for everyone. Dante highlights the punishment for these gluttons as people eating and being buried in excrement. The concept in this Canto is that, if a person, in his lifetime live a life of gluttony, in hell, he will eat all the excesses that he excreted due to his over eating. The principle at work in Dante’s Inferno is the founded on the kind of justice where what the sinner sows is what the sinner gets.
In the Old Testament, the retribution defines that a person will get an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The punishments in The Inferno definitely fits the crime and this concept has added to the book’s effectiveness in creating a world of Hell that is not all fire and pain but a scale of culpability. Another way to look at the Inferno is to treat it as a kind of map where one would geographically find the sinners placed on a certain kind of category.
Dante creatively used a guideline as to how he would put these sinners in the map of Hell. Through a simple system of moral and political concepts, Dante challenges the readers’ interest in understanding why the sinner was placed in what canto and why the sinners have the kind of punishment that Dante and Virgil observed. In Canto XI, Dante explains the logic of the map of Hell. The hierarchy of descent and ascent is important because it is where Dante’s guide as a writer is illustrated.
The sinners are ranked according to how grave their sins are. The intentions to sin is also measured, therefore crimes of passion would be located in the upper parts of Hell as against crimes of corruption which are more culpable. Dante continue to emphasize that the more intention to sin the sinner has, the lower he will descend into Hell. He also illustrates that the crimes committed based on the lower parts of the soul is less grievous than crimes committed arising from the deliberate will to sin that is using human reason.
The reader would therefore get a bigger insight on how the author understands the connection between reason and the divine. In the political aspect of the poem as Dante uses the literature to craft a propaganda against his enemies during that time, he suggests that crimes against individuals receive less punishment than crimes committed against society. Based on the commandment, “Love they neighbor as oneself,” Dante ensures that those sinners that used their political positions to corrupt social systems that made men enemies instead of friends would be placed on the lower recesses of Hell.
And that is why, Lucifer is found in the center of Hell because he has acted against the love of God and corrupted men to love their own selves instead of loving others. The effectiveness of Dante’s Inferno lies in its underlying logic where the life one leads will be considered in the afterlife. Divine justice is essentially generous, compassionate and brings forth a sense of balance in things. The author gave conscious effort in maintaining his own guidelines of the logic of Hell he created. This is found in how the elements of the poem support each other.
When one looks into the allegorical and symbolic elements, it connives with the historical elements used in the poem. Reading the Inferno poses a challenge to its readers to find his own soul in the map of Hell depending on the kind of sin that the reader would profess. And if the reader would acknowledge the kind of sin he has committed, he will easily find his placement on the map of Dante’s Hell. Once he is able to find his placement, he then would know what kind of punishment he must undertake.
And knowing the logic behind Dante’s divine justice, the reader would be able to effectively second guess the punishment which will have parallel similarities with the kind of sin. The Inferno is timeless and classic because until now, no one is definite on what Hell is. No one has gone there and back which makes Dante a religious architect that has constructed Hell in a way that readers would appreciate its torments, three dimensionally. The reader would also appreciated the Divine as Dante is able to justify the punishments’ logic.