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Dante The Infernal Hierarchy English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1358 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The time period and setting that an author experiences greatly affects his/her work. In The Divine Comedy, and primarily in The Inferno, Dante Alighieri uses the Medieval Italian society and the individuals within them to ultimately shape the sinners that reside in their respective circles in hell. Dante's derision for the hierarchy exists throughout the Inferno, and placing many sinners in their circles due to his own personal bias as writer and ultimately as a politician.

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The virtuous pagans that Dante looked up to heavily influenced the Medieval Italian society. These individuals influenced society to such a degree that they became household names; and they heavily influenced Dante. For example, Virgil, to Dante, "[is his] true master and first author, the first maker from whom [he] drew the breath of that sweet style whose measures have brought [him] honor" (I, 82-84). Dante, knowing that pagans deserve to reside in hell, creates Circle I, where punishment does not exist. Ideally, hell is where all sinners suffer, yet Dante creates this circle so those he looks up to and that influence Rome, will not have to suffer. Regarded as one of the greatest Roman poets and the greatest "Christian Pagan", for scholars believe he foretold the birth of Christ, Virgil acts as a guide through hell for Dante and is even contacted by heavenly beings to guide Dante through this epic quest through hell. In addition, Dante places "Homer, singing master of the earth… Horace the satirist, Ovid… and Lucan" in the same circle as Virgil (IV, 88-90). Though all these poets are pagan and do not believe in Christ, they are strategically placed in this circle of hell by Dante. These individuals impacted Dante the most at his career as an author/poet and did not want them to suffer in hell. Furthermore, Dante sees "Aristotle…Socrates and Plato at his side." (IV, 131-134). All these philosophers impacted Dante greatly and molded him into the writer he became. Though the beginning half of the Inferno primarily insults Dante's enemies, he clearly sets these virtuous pagans here in order to contrast their greatness with the wickedness of the following cantos and why the individuals here deserve no punishment. Dante even claims, "I cannot count so much nobility", as he exits Limbo after seeing the greatness of the individuals resided there (IV, 148). Circle One of Hell rouses Dante, and he nearly appears disappointed to leave the "worthy souls" (IV, 43). Dante, a self-proclaimed Catholic, is heavily influenced by ancient Roman mythologies, like many of the damned souls in Limbo. Dante clearly places these individuals here because he struggles to find a balance between the classical pagan mythology and Catholicism.

Dante hardens his hearts to religious individuals who sin or act hypocritical as they comprise the center of his hierarchy. For example, when Dante arrives in Bolgia Three, where the Simoniacs reside, Dante shows his scorn by calling them "thieves for hire" (XIX, 4), for they sold ecclesiastic favors and offices. Dante does not display his sympathy in this section of hell, but shows his derision for these individuals. The Simoniacs are placed above all sinners who have sinned against God, though it is not the highest ranked punishment in hell, though one would believe sinning against God exists as the worst possible sin. In addition, Dante's contempt is evident towards these individuals after he speaks with Pope Nicholas III. Dante curses him further and states, "This hole well fits you...and were it not that I am still constrained...I should not have refrained from using other words and sharper still" (XIX, 91-92, 94-95). Dante's earlier disregard disappears, for the Simoniacs hold no moral integrity. The poet feels no need to shower compassion on the wicked spirits who have deliberately blemished God's house, but Dante seems to show more distaste to those who he rivaled politically.

Those who Dante was against politically seemed to suffer worse than the religious sinner and receive more contempt from Dante. For example, when Dante meets Filippo Argenti, he asks Virgil, "Master, it would suit my whim to see the wretch scrubbed down into the swill before we leave this stinking sink and him" (VIII, 49-51). Dante even calls Filippo a "hell dog" because Filippo is a bitter political enemy of Dante (VII, 38). This instance marks the beginning of Dante's first true scorn towards a sinner, and it starts off with his political enemy. Dante reacts more harshly towards this sinner who has committed a crime against the country and not the church. Quite clearly, the poet's hatred against fraudulent politicians manifests itself through Dante's scathing attitude towards Filippo. In Bolgia Seven, Dante again crosses a soul, specifically a thief, who has contaminated the soil through his actions. Dante becomes appeased when "the snakes become [his] friends" and "coil itself about the wretch's neck" (XXV, 4-5). The "wretch", Vanni Fucci, wronged his country by his practice of robbery and has also committed a double crime in Dante's eyes by belonging to the Black Party. Dante simply detests political enemies and cannot stand any who act immorally when concerning the affairs of a nation, since he himself has a high level of patriotism and could not imagine himself betraying his own country.

Individuals that betray the state receive one of the more extreme punishments and in hell that is fiercer than any other sinner. For example, in the Circle Nine, when Dante meets Bocca delgi Abbati, Dante displays his absolute hate towards him and unleashes a fury that he did not display all throughout the novel. When Bocca, a traitorous Florentine, refuses to answer Dante's questions, Dante "[grabs] the hair of his dog's ruff and [says]: 'Either you tell me truly who you are, or you won't have a hair left on your head'" (XXXII, 97-99). Dante shows the most contempt to Bocca for he resides in the Circle of hell where the individuals who betray their country dwell, and Dante, a patriotic politician for Florence, hates individuals that betray their country. What sets Bocca apart from the rest of the sinners that reside in this icy pit is that Bocca betrays Dante's beloved city of Florence. Dante loves the city of Florence and wants the best for it, and when Bocca betrays his city by hacking off the standard bearers hands during the battle of Montaperti, thus eliminating the standard around which their solider could rally which in turn causes the Florentines to get routed, Dante does not want to show him any mercy. In addition, a double crime against one's master and country appears in the story of Brutus and Cassius and the murder of Julius Caesar. "In every mouth [Satan] worked a broken sinner between his rake-like teeth" is where Dante places Brutus and Cassius (XXXIV, 55-57). By killing Julius Caesar, a political figure that Dante loved, Brutus and Cassius cause internal instability in the Roman Empire, thus betraying their country. These two gentlemen receive the most ruthless punishment in hell and are placed in the same punishment as Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus Christ. By juxtaposing Brutus and Cassius to Judas, one can determine the political bias by Dante. Dante places Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed a secular emperor, on the same level as Jesus Christ, The Prince of Peace and a member of the Holy Trinity, the Christian deity. With these three sinners all placed at the same level, Dante clearly displays how he feels about people who betray their country by comparing them on the same level as the one who betrayed the Most High.

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Even though many of the characters in hell deserved to reside there, Dante displays his clear bias towards certain groups according to how they affected him or Florence. Anyone who affected Florence in a negative manner would get the worst punishments while the ones who helped Dante would get treated better than the rest. Dante cleverly placed these individuals, dead or alive, in these circles, showing his true disdain towards these individuals.


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