Often when we set out to journey in ourselves, we come to places that surprise us with their strangeness. Expecting to see what is straightforward and acceptable, we suddenly run across the exceptions. Just as we as self‹examiners might encounter our inner demons, so does Dante the writer as he sets out to walk through his Inferno. Dante explains his universe - in terms physical, political, and spiritual - in the Divine Comedy. He also gives his readers a glimpse into his own perception of what constitutes sin. By portraying characters in specific ways, Dante the writer can shape what Dante the pilgrim feels about each sinner. Also, the reader can look deeper in the text and examine the feelings that Dante, as a writer and exiled Florentine, may have felt about his particular characters. Dante shows through his poetry some admiration for certain sinners, as if in life he had reason to respect their actions on earth, only to mourn their souls' fate. In the case of Pier Delle Vigne, it is clear that Dante wishes to clear the name of the damned soul that has been conscripted to hell for the shame of unjust dishonor.
At the beginning of Canto 13 we find Dante the pilgrim entering the wood of the suicides. He has grown stronger in will at the sight of each circle of torment, yet he approaches this one with a sense of wonder concerning the meaning of the suffering. Here the trees are black and gnarled, with branches that bear "poison thorns instead of fruit"(l.6). The souls of suicides will never be productive, presenting even in death, which they hoped would free them, only negativity. Here the pilgrim learns the sinful nature of suicide, it being an aberration of ...
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... of Pier delle Vigne has a dual purpose: both to teach about the sin of taking one's life, but also to show how the value of one's own life can still drive one to destroy it. There are many similar conflicts in the Inferno. The lesson that must be learned is to balance judgement with compassion, but not let the emotions cloud the nature of sin. It is important to learn the true path to righteousness, but also important not to miss the many complicated nuances of life along the way. Just as Dante the poet felt conflicting feelings about the sinners he portrayed as damned souls, readers of the inferno should also consider the many different aspects of each character's portrayal.
Ciardi, John, trans. The Divine Comedy. In The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Expanded Edition. Vol. I. Ed. Maynard Mack. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995.
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