In Dante’s Inferno, Dante takes a journey with Virgil through the many levels of Hell in order to experience and see the different punishments that sinners must endure for all eternity. As Dante and Virgil descend into the bowels of Hell, it becomes clear that the suffering increases as they continue to move lower into Hell, the conical recess in the earth created when Lucifer fell from Heaven. Dante values the health of society over self. This becomes evident as the sinners against society experience suffering greater than those suffer which were only responsible for sinning against themselves. Dante uses contrapasso, the Aristotelian theory that states a soul’s form of suffering in Hell contrasts or extends their sins in their life on earth, to ensure that the sinners never forget their crimes against God. Even though some of the punishments the sinners in Hell seem arbitrary, they are fitting because contrapasso forces each sinner to re-live the most horrible aspect of their sin to ensure they never forget their crimes against God.
As Dante and Virgil, Dante’s guide through Hell, approach the Gate of Hell, Dante reads the inscription above the gates:
“Through me the way to 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.” (III, 48)
This message accurately describes how those souls will experience contrapasso in Hell. They will never be released and will experience suffering for eternity. The first line speaks of a...
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...ouls to exist. It is a fitting punishment because he wanted to rule like God. Now he does, but he rules over the souls who could not achieve the presence of God after death.
Dante efficiently uses contrapasso to punish the souls that sinned in their lifetimes. All the sinners experience ultimate suffering as they act to extend or continue their sin for eternity. The suffering in Hell is ultimately unbearable, regardless of the nature of sin. The sinners have no hope of their condition becoming any better because the only change will be at the Final Judgment. Then their punishments will be perfected because they will then have bodies and a new way to experience suffering. Contrapasso ensures that these souls will exist in an eternity of complete despair.
Alighieri, Dante. Inferno. Trans. Mark Musa. NY: Penguin Books, 1984.
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