The Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, takes the audience on a journey through the stories of hell, purgatory, and heaven in Dante’s Inferno. Starting in hell, Dante tells the story of his journey and his experiences, under the guidance of the classical Roman poet Virgil, as he travels through the nine circles of hell to reach heaven. Through his very detailed descriptions of punishments, settings and characters, the poem serves an allegorical purpose by showing one man’s desperate journey from confusion and depression to salvation. An allegory is a story with both a literal and symbolic meaning. Dante uses an allegory in Canto I and he describes his internal struggle through the dark forest which represents his mid-life crisis.
Canto I’s allegory has several symbols of Christian beliefs which help in his efforts to creatively warn readers about the consequences of the sins of humankind. Canto I begins with Dante waking up in a dark forest, midway through the course of his life. This is shown when it reads, ‘In the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood, astray/Gone from the path direct” (I. 2-3). Having strayed from the right, virtuous path of life, Dante finds himself in a dark place of confusion and possible sin. Dante does not make it clear whether this forest is a real, earthly place or a more allegorical and symbolic forest. The description of the forest as gloomy further demonstrates his dark place. ‘That forest, how robust and rough its growth, / Which to remember only my dismay/ Renews, in bitterness not far from death’ (I. 5-7). Dante then sees a mountain with the sun shining above it. The sight makes him feel more comfortable so he attempts to climb the mountain. But as he begins his climb, a leopard leaps in front of him, forcing him to turn back. Dante still hopes that he can climb the mountain, encouraged by the bright rays of the sun. But then a terrifying lion comes into his path, followed by a fierce wolf. These three animals represent three kinds of sin, lack of self-control, violence, and fraudulence and deception. As a result, Dante turns around and stops climbing the mountain. Dante writes an allegory in Canto I showing many religious symbols.
Dante faces an internal struggle during his journey through the dark forest. The dark forest represents his midlife crisis. He has reached this point in his life where he does not know what to do with himself. He is confused, depressed, and believes that he has strayed from the right road on how to live his life. Later on in the epic poem, Dante gets banished from Italy and he depicts Virgil, the classical Roman poet, who was sent by Beatrice, the girl that Dante loves who is an angel in heaven. Virgil resided in Limbo which was one of the levels of the afterlife, according to Dante. People in Limbo had no chance of going to heaven or hell, so they just wait eternally in suspense hoping they will get out of there. Virgil was in Limbo because he had beliefs of a pagan but Dante admired him and his writing, so he did not put him in hell for being a pagan. Dante’s internal struggle has to do with the right way to live life during his midlife crisis and getting over his confusion and depression.
Usually society sees Satan as active and full of energy, roaming around the world tempting people. He often has great fun tormenting sinners, while being surrounded by flames. People often picture him as attractive, a proud rebel, one who has refused to spend his life serving God, and many have identified with him. Even those who have portrayed him in a way that emphasizes his evil nature have portrayed him as powerful and dangerous. But nobody pictures Satan the same way Dante does. Dante depicts Satan as almost completely passive. Dante shows Satan being stuck in the ice in the depths of Hell, and his only actions are to flap his wings, and thus freeze the ice in which he’s stuck, to gnaw on the sinners in his three mouths, and to weep tears and blood. Dante describes Satan as huge, and at first Dante cannot help but be terrified of him, but his size is the only reminder of his stature when he was Lucifer and the fairest angel in Heaven. Dante depicts him as horribly ugly with his three faces of different colors. His former beauty was of course given to him by his Creator, so the mention of that beauty makes it appalling that he could have rebelled against God, who made him out of nothing and made him so beautiful. And Dante sees that he should not fear him, since he has no real power. He cannot even stop Dante and Virgil from escaping from Hell by climbing down his body to the center of the earth and then turning around and climbing up. The last sight Dante and Virgil have of him is grotesque, comic, and pathetic just two helpless hairy legs waving upside down from a hole. It may seem like a romantic rebellion to refuse to serve God, but it leaves one trapped in the ego. Fundamental religious beliefs of different cultures and religions in today’s society, such as repentance for sin and being rewarded with salvation in the afterlife and the decisions one makes and the sins one commit will decide his or her fate in the afterlife, are similar to what Dante believed. However, he went into detail of different levels of sin and hell. For example, he puts fraud as the worst sin at the lowest level of hell and saints have a straight path to heaven and do not have to go through purgatory first. Dante’s image of Satan shows how different Satan is viewed by society and how Dante views him. Also, his beliefs and beliefs of today’s society are compared throughout the poem as well.
Dante’s Inferno by Dante Alighieri shows Dante’s midlife crisis as an allegorical journey through a dark forest in Canto I and his internal struggle during his journey through the dark forest and his climb up the mountain. He also shows differences of how today’s society views Satan and how he viewed Satan. Dante’s Inferno shows accurately how it feels to go through a midlife crisis and his work still speaks to readers today for approximately 800 years for good reason. Dante beautifully describes the struggles of life and how one can question what he or she has done with their life through the allegory he writes in Canto I.
Argumentative Essay on Dante's Inferno
The purpose of this essay is to discuss the relevance of Dante's Inferno / Hell to the contemporary reader in the Western world. This essay will demonstrate that there are many issues discussed in Dante's. The Divine Comedy that are as relevant today as they were when Dante first wrote his comedy. Although the views discussed are not common to everyone, it will be shown that such views are still apparent in contemporary society and therefore are relevant to the contemporary reader. It will be shown that even today, many people undertake a journey such as the one Dante describes. It will also be shown that many of the sins that were considered worthy of hell in Dante's time are still considered by some people to be sins today.
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The relevance of Dante's hell to contemporary society in the western world could be said to be visible from the very first Canto. Here Dante is lost and unable to find his way back to the right road. "Midway this way of life we're bound upon, I wake to find myself in a dark wood" (Dante, 1949, p71). This could be said to be a representation of the psychological torment of many people who become depressed or unsure of their place in life. Many people are forced to go on a journey within themselves in order face and overcome the fears and dark thoughts that are affecting their lives. To many it is a journey of self-discovery, not always a pleasant one. Often it is difficult for someone to leave the dark underworld within themselves and they can be pushed back again and again "Back to that place wherein the sun is mute" (Dante, 1949, p73). Dante was forced to go through the circles of hell and face all the horrors so that he could safely leave the dark wood. Dante was fortunate in that he had Virgil to guide him on his way. Many do not have the good fortune to have such a guide to help them during their darkest hours. For some the journey through darkness and despair must be faced and endured alone. Dante's journey is one in which he faced and described what he perceived to be the sins of the world.
It is in the vestibule of hell that Dante met some of the unfortunates who were on the edge of hell. These people who were not actually in hell itself were the ones who were considered too tepid, dull or stupid to have made much of a difference to life, their own or anybody else's. These people were constantly running futiley in circles unable to make a choice. They were so inept and insignificant that they were not considered good enough even for hell. " No reputation in the world it has, Mercy and doom hold it alike in scorn" (Dante, 1949, p86) Some would argue that this sort of person can be seen in society today. These people are too weak or inept to make an effort to turn their lives around and become useful citizens of society. If this type of person works they often resent having to do what they are doing but are unable to choose to change their job, they do not have the gumption or willpower to change. These people are incapable of making a decision. They are so inept that even if making a decision would improve their circumstances, they can't make that decision for fear they might miss another better opportunity. They are fence sitters. It could be said that some of the unemployed people today are of this type. They curse and winge and blame everybody else for their misfortune. These people are common in society today. They create their own hell, living on the fringes of life and "it's blind life trails on so low and crass that every other life it envieth" (Dante, 1949, p86).
The first circle of hell - the "Limbo where the Unbaptized and the Virtuous Pagans dwell" (Dante, 1949, p90), may be an area where perhaps some may think there is not much relevance for contemporary society. I beg to differ. It must be remembered that there are still those around who hold the belief that to be saved and go to heaven one must recognize and accept God. Even today Missionaries are still going to places such as India and Africa with the sole purpose of converting the people of those countries to Christianity. World wide it is possible to see cultures and civilizations that have been destroyed by the efforts of missionaries and others to civilize and christianize those that were considered pagans.
These indigenous people lived a good life obeying their own laws and following their own religious practices. Their only "sin" was not to be baptized and to practice what was considered by Christians to be pagan beliefs. "They sinned not; yet their merit lacked its chiefest Fulfillment, lacking baptism."(Dante, 1949, p92). Although attitudes and values are changing the indigenous people are still suffering from the attitudes and values that were imposed on them not so long ago. Many Indigenous people are lost between two cultures, their own culture has changed beyond recognition and they are expected to accept and fit in to a dominant culture that in many cases does not accept them. Many of these people today live in what they would argue is a living hell.
The sin of incontinence or lust is one, which is difficult upon first glance, to relate to society today and to find relevance to Dante's inferno. Yet with greater examination it appears that this hell for the lustful exists today. Many people today go through the agony of many romances and breakups. In the Western world it is not considered a sin for people to divorce; in fact it is common. A large part of the community does not consider it immoral to have sexual relationships with one or more partner and yet many people are not finding happiness, they are satisfying lust and perhaps finding that that is not enough. They drift from one relationship to another constantly searching for who knows what. They are "Bond thrall under the yoke of their lust". (Dante, 1949, p98). Of course there are still those church groups and individuals who do consider lust to be a sin and in fact this view can be seen even in a society that claims to be tolerant of sexual freedom. It is not uncommon for women /girls to be labeled "easy", "slut" and other such names. While the sin of incontinence may be somewhat difficult for some to relate to, the sin of gluttony could be said to be one that is well recognized in the western world.
The gluttonous are graphically described in Dante's The Divine Comedy. "These all lay grovelling flat upon the sod" (Dante, 1949, p105). This statement could be taken to mean, "they lay wallowing in the mud like pigs". Just as Dante used the word Ciacco, which means pig, as a nickname for a glutton, so today the word pig is used to describe someone who is considered greedy or fat. It is considered by society to be disgusting if a person is overweight and overweight people are regarded as gluttons. There is no doubt that many of these people live in hell. They are shunned, scorned and mocked by society for the way they look. Not only are they scorned and hated by society but also they scorn and hate themselves. As Cerberus "Clutches and flays and rips and rends the souls" (Dante, 1949, p104), so they mentally flagellate and hate themselves. They live in a hell, of their own and society's making and it could be said that their hell is not much different to the one described by Dante.
As recorded in The Divine Comedy suicide was considered to be sin at the time in which Dante lived. This attitude is one, which until recently has continued to be held. People who committed suicide, were considered to have sinned and therefore were buried outside the church grounds and were metaphorically, consigned to hell. Those who attempted suicide and failed were either placed in jail or mental institutions. It is not uncommon for those who have attempted suicide to try again and again. They are perhaps the ones who are not able to find a way out of the underworld in which they find themselves. They find no joy in life and perhaps regard those that prevent them from committing suicide as a source of even more pain. "Why dost thou rend my bones? Breathes there no pity in thy breast at all?" (Dante, 1949, p150). Although the repercussions of attempting to commit suicide are not as harsh in today's society it is still regarded by society as some something shameful when it happens. The recent stories in newspapers reporting on the activities of a doctor who tried to assist the terminally ill to commit suicide highlights the attitudes that are held about suicide. The doctor has been given the appellation "doctor death" and legal action taken against him to prevent him assisting those who wish to end their lives. Those who are in pain or feel they are at the end of their life do not legally have the right to take their own life or to ask assistance to do so. There is still a very strong belief in society that only God is seen to have the right to give life and take it away.
The seventh circle in Dante's hell is where the sodomites were sent. The issue of homosexuality today is one that can cause great contention. There are those who hold the belief that homosexuality is not a sin and that homosexuals are persecuted and sinned against. There are also those who believe that homosexuality is a very serious sin. This can be seen time and again in newspaper reports and television news shows when carnivals such as the Mardi Gra are held. Church leaders proclaim carnivals like the Mardi Gra as sinful and try to have them banned. There are those who revile homosexuals as sinners against God and nature. Homosexuals have been murdered and tortured because of their sexuality and they constantly have to defend themselves against the attitudes of a society that can at times be condemning. One can perhaps draw a parallel with this when Brunetto states that the sodomites cannot rest "Should one of our lot rest One second, a hundred years he must lie low." (Dante, 1949, p163) This is perhaps the hell for homosexuals today, the inability to simply be who they are, because of the necessity for constant defense of their sexuality. The development of the AIDS virus has served to increase for many people the fear and loathing of homosexuals. In America there is a church whose members attends funerals of known homosexuals and hold up placards that proclaim such things as "Going to the Pit of Hell". It could be said that many homosexuals live in hell on earth. They are reviled and hated by many people and many keep their homosexuality a secret because of the fears they hold about repercussions.
It could be said that the Barrators in the eighth circle of hell are particularly relevant to contemporary society. These are the "Fellows who'd swear black's white for half a crown" (Dante, 1949, p203). These are the people who are meant to serve the community. Our society has many levels of government and there are frequent news stories about the inappropriate use of funds. An example of this could be said to be the extravagant superannuation packages that MP's are entitled to after three years in parliament. Changes to legislation that will advantage the politicians are passed through parliament in the middle of the night in the hopes of it going unnoticed by the public. Another example is the current furore over Peter Reith's phone card. The public feels that their trust has been betrayed when those that are meant to be serving the needs of the community are found to be lying so that they can line their pockets. The fury of the public is conveyed in the newspaper and in television programs. Once a person who was supposed to be working for the best interests of the community is exposed as corrupt, the public fury has no bounds. These people are pilloried by the media and are often forced to resign. This seems to be somewhat parallel with the circle of hell that the Barrators were in. They were pursued by demons that cheerfully dealt out justice. "On high-hunched shoulder he was carrying A wretched sinner, hoist by haunch and hip, clutching each ankle by the sinew string" (Dante, 1949,p203)
In conclusion, it can be said that, although only a small number of the sins described by Dante in The Divine Comedy have been discussed in this essay, it has been shown that Dante's Inferno/Hell does hold some relevance for the contemporary reader. Today, many people are still facing an underworld of their own and finding it a journey that can be long and difficult. Much of what was considered sinful in Dante's time is still considered sinful in many parts of contemporary society. It could be said that it has been shown that man makes his own hell and that Dante's version of hell is in some cases similar to the hell that man makes for himself. There may not be a hell such as that described in the bible but in can be said that there is for some people there is a hell on earth.
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