Dante's Inferno: A Close Reading of Canto V
Dante Alighieri presents a vivid and awakening view of the depths of Hell in the first book of his Divine Comedy, the Inferno. The reader is allowed to contemplate the state of his own soul as Dante "visits" and views the state of the souls of those eternally assigned to Hell's hallows. While any one of the cantos written in Inferno will offer an excellent description of the suffering and justice of hell, Canto V offers a poignant view of the assignment of punishment based on the committed sin. Through this close reading, we will examine three distinct areas of Dante's hell: the geography and punishment the sinner is restricted to, the character of the sinner, and the "fairness" or justice of the punishment in relation to the sin. Dante's Inferno is an ordered and descriptive journey that allows the reader the chance to see his own shortcomings in the sinners presented in the text.
Among the followers of Christianity, questions arise in order to find the righteous path to Heaven’s gate. On the contrary, there are those who seek answers for what is forsaken. Dante Alighieri fully expresses himself on this dilemma in his written work, The Divine Comedy. The first part of the epic poem is Inferno; Dante defines and constructs Hell, based on the morals and judgments set by common beliefs during his time. Dante also uses Aristotle’s philosophical work to shape the structure of Hell. Undergoing a journey through Hell as himself, Dante places famous literary icons to assist in questioning the acts of justice. Dante builds and contrast between the sinners who are innocent, and those who deliberately perform evil deeds. Virgil, a fellow poet and pagan, exemplifies wisdom and clarity that which Dante must learn through his endeavor. Virgil’s guidance will provide contrast and the necessary guidance to reach Paradise. The change of character Dante experience, is dreadful; pity and remorse must be exempted to honor retribution for the sinners’ defiance against God. All the answers regarding Hell, lies upon meeting the primal sinner, Lucifer, the Fallen Angel. Dante’s journey unfolds a critical analysis in which portrays the human struggle in every individual. There are several implications of the four functions of myth that can be derived from Dante’s Inferno. Dante divides Hell into three dispositions: incontinence, malice and brutality. (Alighieri, Dante, and Longfellow 6.79-82)
The Middle Ages spawned a revolutionary arc in religious activity. Having welcomed Christianity, and taking roots from Greek and Roman spirituality, the arts had evolved alongside divine beliefs. Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy explored the realms of Christianity, which included Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Heaven (Paradiso), with the fictitious account of Dante himself traveling to each individual place. As such, his masterpiece had become a wonder of the literature world. Alongside it, the artistic visions of Donatello and Brunelleschi had held Greek and Roman beliefs in high regards as a majority of their architecture, sculptures, and other artistic aspects had derived directly from those ancient beliefs. Finally, music had
Rudd, Jay. Critical Companion to Dante: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York. 2008. Print.
Alighieri, Dante. Inferno A New Verse Translation, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism (Norton Critical Editions). Boston: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. Print
Dantes was in prison or 14 years during that time he was studying multiple subjects with his companion and mentor, Abbe Faria. Dantes walks into the prison poor, uneducated, and hopeless he walks out an intelligent man with resources and optimistic about his future. Dantes had 14 years to learn and grow with the help from his cell mate. During Dante’s imprisonment, an inmate named Abbe Faria teaches him more about the world, how to be resourceful, and different languages; all of which help Dantes extract revenge on people who wronged him. When Dantes escapes from prison he uses everything he learned to help him achieve the vengeance against many people who wronged him.
In Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy” he creates Dante to change throughout the story in more ways than one. Before Dante begins his journey, he finds himself lost, and without help. Dante begins his journey in the dark woods, learning from Virgil about Gods justice, and eventually finds himself before Gods light.
“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.” This maxim applies to the poet Dante Alighieri, writer of The Inferno in the 1300s, because it asserts the need to establish oneself as a contributor to society. Indeed, Dante’s work contributes much to Renaissance Italy as his work is the first of its scope and size to be written in the vernacular. Due to its readability and availability, The Inferno is a nationalistic symbol. With this widespread availability also comes a certain social responsibility; even though Dante’s audience would have been familiar with the religious dogma, he assumes the didactic role of illustrating his own version of Christian justice and emphasizes the need for a personal understanding of divine wisdom and contrapasso, the idea of the perfect punishment for the crime. Dante acts as both author and narrator, completing a physical and spiritual journey into the underworld with Virgil as his guide and mentor. The journey from darkness into light is an allegory full of symbolism, much like that of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which shows a philosopher’s journey towards truth. Therefore, Dante would also agree with the maxim, “Wise men learn by others’ harms; fools scarcely by their own,” because on the road to gaining knowledge and spiritual enlightenment, characters who learn valuable lessons from the misfortunes of others strengthen their own paradigms. Nonetheless, the only true way to gain knowledge is to experience it first hand. Dante’s character finds truth by way of his own personal quest.
“Through me you pass into the city of woe: Through me you pass into eternal pain: Through me among the people lost for aye” (Alighieri III 1/3). “Inferno”, the first section of the Divine Comedy devised by Dante Alighieri, illustrates the qualifications of a sin, and the punishments befalling a sinner within the nine levels of Hell. Alighieri’s moral ranking of sins, while appropriate for 14th century Italy, contradict modern-day western principles and ethics. Current social tolerance and knowledge in psychology go against Alighieri’s decision of what is sin, and placement of these ‘sins’.
“Midway in our life journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood”. These are the first three lines from Dante’s inferno and are also the most important three lines of the whole book. The very first word is midway, Dante believed our lives are half way over at 35 years old, this is also how old Dante was when he was writing Inferno. Dante also says our life’s, instead of just saying his life. Because he made this book for all humanity not just himself, plus this whole series is allegorical. This whole book is not talking about just one Dante it is actually talking about two. The 1st Dante experiences things, and the 2nd has large amounts of pride to deal with. Dante’s Inferno is mainly based on a