Inferno By Dante And Punishments The Comedy, later renamed The Divine Comedy was written by Dante Alighieri of Florence, Italy. In the early 14th century, while in exile, Dante wrote this epic poem which is broken down into three books. In each book Dante recounts his travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven respectively. The first book of The Divine Comedy, Inferno, is an remarkably brilliant narrative. He narrates his descent into and observation of hell through its numerous circles and rings.
One extraordinary way Dante depicted hell is in his descriptions of the various punishments that each group of sinners has received. In a prior college course I took we learned about medieval torture practices. This knowledge led me to see similarities in the punishments given in Inferno. The diverse punishments that Dante envisions all the sinners in hell receiving are broken down into two types. The first he borrows from many gruesome and severe forms of medieval torture. The second type is often less physically agonizing.
It is Dantes creative, very clever forms of punishment. Although all sinners in hell are souls, Dante gives each one a physical attribute so that the reader can envision the entire atmosphere clearer. The borrowed medieval forms of torturous punishments create physical pain for the different sinners in hell, and thus intended to be interpreted literally. The creative punishments are conceived to deliver mental and psychological pain to be understood metaphorically. Creative punishments in many cases can, however, inflict both a mental pain and a physical pain upon the sinner. Many of the severe punishments that Dante foresees for the sinners are borrowed from practices of medieval torment and imprisonment. The medieval dungeons were usually gloomy and dark, and inundated in disgusting stenches. Dante used this depiction to describe the overall atmosphere in the inferno.
Unbearable and unavoidable extremes of cold or hot temperature, which are portrayed in the Inferno, are also representative of Medieval times. Prisoners of Medieval jails were provided with little or no ventilation to protect them from the extreme cold or hot weather, they could easily freeze to death or die of heatstroke. Throughout Inferno images of cruel punishment adopted from the ideas of medieval torture are seen to inflict physical pain upon the sinners. The eighth circle, called Malebolge, contained the sinners known as the Flatterers. The sin of flattery was punishable through torture intending to create physical anguish.
As Dante travels over a bridge he sees that “the ditch beneath/ held people plunged in excrement that seemed/ as if it had been poured from human privies” (167). The sinners were obviously condemned to live in “*censored*” because of all the “bull*censored*” that ran across their tongues while they were living. Dante meets up with a sinner who informs him of this: “I am plunged here because of flatteries–/ of which my tongue had such sufficiency” (167). The irony is intentional that the sinners sit immersed in the crap that originally came from their mouths in the form of flattery. This punishment is quite vile and repulsive.
It is designed to inflict physical agony upon the sinner. Dante, as a visitor to this place, is questioned by a sinner, “Why do you stare more greedily at me than at the others who are filthy?” (167). Although Dante feels depressed for the sinners he has seen throughout his journey, in this ring among the flatterers he seems to be nonchalant about meeting them. He is not as moved by their condition as he is in other rings, maybe because he thinks they deserve this sort of punishment, however disgusting it may be. Dante, the visitor, leaves the ring having had his sights fill of it.
The second form of punishment Dante uses in Inferno is very interesting to analyze. These are his metaphorical punishments which are quite creative and more original than any physical torture. In Canto XX Dante, the visitor, travels with his companion through the eighth circle where the souls of the Diviners, Astrologers, and Magicians have been sent to suffer. Dante describes a procession of “mute and weeping” (179) souls who “found it necessary to walk backward” (179) because they had their heads turned all the way behind them. These souls, when living thought they could see the future and are now damned to only see behind them.
This description of these pathetic souls is an example of one of the psychologically painful punishments invented by Dante. It is obviously uncomfortable to have ones head turned backwards, but the mental anguish is far greater. For Dante who was raised in a religious background, telling the future was a form of blasphemy because only God knew the future. Dante has angrily punished the sinners to forever look behind them and walk backwards as well. The punishment for blasphemy in Medieval times was often death by burning in a fire, instead of using some sort of physical torture such as this Dante creates a rather sensible and creative punishment for the sinners.
While traveling through the eighth circle we read that Dante breaks down in tears, “May God so let you, reader, gather fruit/ from what you read; and now think for yourself/ how could I ever keep my own face dry/ when I beheld our image so nearby” (179). He speaks of the sad, contorted figures surrounding him and feels very sorrowful. Dantes guide berates his sadness explaining that if God has judged these souls this way, sorrow should not be felt, they are deserving of their punishment, “Are you as foolish as the rest?/ Here only pity lives when it is dead:/ for who can be more impious than he who links Gods judgment to passivity?” (179). Through these two types of punishments, physical and metaphorical, Dante has clearly illustrated how horrible hell truly is. His physical tortures are horrifying in their disgusting and excruciating extremes and his creative tortures are psychologically vicious and cruel. The differences in the forms of punishment add to the poems complexity and its unexpected qualities.
Dante wrote Inferno with the mission of naming his peers in an objective manner and succeeded in doing so. His poem is a masterpiece and will continue to stand the test of time. Work Cited Alighieri, Dante (1980). The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri Inferno (Allen Mandelbaum, Trans.). California: University of California Press.