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Christopher Griffith HIS 241 Dr.

Pardue 091936EST NOV 2011 Book Review #3: Dantes Inferno Inferno depicts in great detail the realm of Hell as described by Dante Alighieri. Its vivid descriptions of various circles, rings, sub-rings, and pockets are organized systematically by the poet Dante in such a way that the character Dante can travel through them and observe their inhabitants. The literary illustrations and encounters are heavily influenced by Dantes political experiences, knowledge of history, Catholic doctrine, and personal opinions. Dantes motives and intent for writing The Divine Tragedy are wholesome and practical. In the Hell of Inferno, different sins are met with different, befitting punishments, each having its own special place. Hell is divided into an upper and lower, and each half is divided into circles. The seventh, eighth, and ninth circles are divided into rings. The third ring of the seventh circle is even divided into sub-rings, and the third sub-ring of the seventh circle is even divided into zones. Dante put some serious thought into the organization and separation of Hells sectors, and as they get progressively deeper, the punishments grow gradually more cruel. The threshold of Hell is home to the apathetic-those who would choose neither good nor evil; not only does Heaven reject them but Hell the same (III, 34). Here, Dante recognizes the shadow of Peter, proving the ultimate and indiscriminate justice of God (III, 58). Amidst upper and lower Hell are three major groups of sins as described by Virgil, intemperance, intentional harm, and mad brutality (XI, 82). Those residing in circles one through six are guilty of sins of intemperance, sins with worldly repercussions that affect the sinner more than any other mortal, and are thus the least punished (moral paganism/non-baptism,

Griffith 2 lust, gluttony, avariciousness/prodigality, wrathfulness/melancholy, and heresy). The residents of upper hell often reside in very uncomfortable scenarios but are monitored by umbral monsters and rarely harassed by demons. Moral pagans and the unbaptized (some of which died before the Christian era) reside in the first circle known as Limbo, by far the most tolerable place in Hell (IV, 34). The gates to the city of Dis mark the threshold between upper and lower Hell. Sins of intentional harm obviously have much graver punishments than those of upper Hell and are associated with circle seven; these souls (or shades as Dante often refers to them) are guilty of violence against others, themselves, God or Nature. Violence (described as homicide) is indubitably worse than intemperance; as it not only offends others, it can also cause them harm and/or death. Those guilty of violence against others are boiled in blood in the first ring (XII, 101). Those guilty of violence against themselves (suicide) are as knotty, thorny, woeful and bleeding trees in the second ring (XIII, 94). Suicide is worse than murder because while one may manufacture numerous justifications for taking the life of another, there is only one reason for taking ones own life: it has been deemed unworthy of living. Upon taking their own life, they have rent their soul from its God-given vessel and thrown it away, unquestionably offending God. Sins of violence committed against God and Nature are punished in a divided desert across three sub-rings that make up the third ring (XIV, 19). Blasphemy, or violence against God, is worse than suicide because there are even suicidal souls that accept Gods existence; blasphemy against God is direct and always intentional. The eighth circle of Hell is identified with common deceit and is divided up into ten rottonpockets (XVIII, 1). The ten pockets all pertain to deception at the cost of others (be it life or property). Though rather long, drawn out, and sometimes difficult to distinguish, the eighth circle of Hell serves an important purpose in punishing progressively worse acts of deceit against the common trust among people. The ninth-

Griffith 3 and-final-circle of Hell is reserved for the lowest collection of sins, the sins of treachery: betrayal to those who grant one uncommon trust. The ninth circle of Hell is actually a lake of ice, wheredepending on the guilty souls relation to the betrayed-are immersed in the glassy ice (XXXII, 22). The first ring is reserved for traitors to family (XXXII, 19). The second ring holds traitors to ones nation (XXXIII, 13). The third ring holds the shades of traitors to guests, whose bodies remain on the surface, controlled by demons(XXXIII, 122). Across a thick fog (XXXIV, 4) lays the fourth-and-final ring of the ninth-and-final circle of Hell, where Lucifer himself resides, frozen midway in the ice (XXXIV, 28). His three maws eternally gnaw on the three greatest traitors of all: Judas Iscariot (XXXIV, 62), Brutus (XXXIV, 65), and Cassius (XXXIV, 67). It is likely that Dante chose these three individuals to reside at the center of Hell because they betrayed the two most influential figures in the history of Christian Europe: Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar. The organization of the ninth circle of Hell is based largely on the intent of the traitor. Family is easiest to betray, as family always holds ties to an individual. Nations, like families, are ascribed cultural factors that individuals are really born into. Guests are more vulnerable, as there is mutual, voluntary trust associated with them. Benefactors are ones closest friends, and a betrayal thereof, is a most unforgivable act! Dante inserts volumes of his background and classical knowledge into Inferno. Numerous appearances of his political rivals, Greek mythological creatures, and classical scholars give the reader a considerable point of observation into Dantes concerns and motives. Possible motives include: inspiring fear in non-believers, making literary jabs at his political rivals and the Florentine aristocracy, or simply attempting to fill a niche in the poetic world. Assuming Inferno is a work intended to educate its readers and given Dantes complexity of Hell, vivacity of description, and the fact that Inferno was written in the Italian

Griffith 4 vernacular, it is most likely that Dante was attempting to reach the common man in his work. He is attempting to identify specific and common sins and pair them to horrible punishments in order to reach an audience that may not be well versed in Christian theology and practice. In conclusion, Dante wrote Inferno to deliver a specific message to a broad audience of Italians that did not know Latin. He organized sins in order from least-to-most punishable by placing the lesser sins in upper Hell, and the greater sins in lower Hell. He interjects his background, experiences and concerns into the poem through the characters, and his motives coexist with what he wanted his layman readers to learn: Christian principles.