Dante’s InfernoPart One:Inferno is one the main sections of Dante Alighieri’s long narrative, about 33 cantos, La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) which was estimated to be written somewhere between 1307 and 1321 (Barbi and Ruggiers, 1997). Its vivid scenes and sharply drawn characters highlight Dante’s imaginative journey through the many circles of hell or inferno through the guidance of the philosopher Virgil. The surface narrative masked an allegory of the after-life and the pilgrim poet Dante as a classical representation of Everyman.
For his literary masterpiece Dante Alighieri, drew on a wealth of scriptural, patristic, classical, and the medieval sources, as well as his own personal experiences. The poem is composed in terza rima (triple rhyme), employing rich imagery and flexible vernacular language of Dante, particularly that of the Italian Tuscany language (Masciandaro, 1993). Of Homeric extent, the work is infused with the emotional and intellectual fervor of the Italian medieval Catholicism. The greatest poem of the Middle Ages, the narrative poem exhibits literary beauty and humanity that transcends all times.
Virgil acts as the guide of Dante through the nine circles of Hell. Hell is architectured liked a funnel with circles spiraling downwards. The circles which represents the different levels for wickedness is gradually increasing and the foci is found at the Earth’s center where Satan is held in bondage. The circles represent the depth of the sin of the sinners and nature of their punishment reflects the ‘sins’ they committed.
Punishments were deemed eternal. The Purgatory was basically for those who have sinned but have ‘repented’ whereas those in Hell were those who are ‘unrepentant’ and who tried to justify their sins.There are nine circles described in the inferno aside from the vestibule. The vestibule contains the neither good nor bad persons; they were the opportunists and they live the life only for themselves hence their punishment was chasing a banner over a maggot ground and they were chased by hornets.
The first circle or the Limbo contains the Virtuous Pagans who dwells in Elysian-like fields and castles forever surrounded by the darkness of Hell. The second circle contains the Lustful persons. This circle is the start of real punishment in Hell. Here the Lustful or the Carnal souls are eternally caught in the constant whirlwinds of hell (Barbi and Ruggiers, 1997).
The third circle which contains the Gluttonous is marked by filth and garbage. They suffer the icy torrent of rain and the cold slush below while being rip apart by Cerberus. The fourth circle contains the Hoarders and the Wasters whose punishment is pushing great huge boulders on their stomach and rolling them against each other eternally. The dirty marsh ‘Styx River’ represents the entirety of Circle 5.
Here the Wrathful wallow in the slime while attacking each other and Sullen are trapped, literally, in the dark, in the depthness of Styx (Barbi and Ruggiers, 1997).A ferry, takes Virgil and Dante to the Gate of Dis, the City of Hell. Here in Circle 6, the heretics lie in hot and blazing tombs where they will be put to eternal death during the judgment Day with the lids sealing them in their tombs forever. Circle 7 is subdivided into three: (1) the Violent against Neighbors in wallow in the hot and bloody River Phlegethon while being pierced by centaurs; (2) the suicidals in Wood of Suicides are turned to trees and their leaves eaten by the Harpies eternally; and (3) the Blasphemers, the Sodomites, and the Usurers are found on the Burning Sand.
The Circle 8 or the Malebolge is an arena for numerous sinners—the panderers (whipped), flatterers (sewer-sunked), simoniacs (upside-down in holes), fortune tellers (head turned walk backwards), grafters (poked on), hypocrites (heavy robes), thieves (reptile-tortured), evil counselors (flame-encased), sowers of discord (sword-hacked) and falsifiers (various). The final Circle 9 is the Cocytus, contains the treacherous and Satan encased in ice. Ironically it represents Satan as the center of evil.Part Two:The first Canto describes the “Dark Wood of Error” and the “Worldiness” as others call it.
The first Canto initiates the mood for the whole narrative work. It also allows the reader to visualize the work (and prepare him/her for it) on several levels—poetic, political/historical, and moral/religious—and/or a combination of the different levels. The poem as previously mentioned is in terza rima and would reflect and develop the poetic mood for the upcoming cantos. Dante makes use of the first person point of view, “I…my” suggesting his active role as the pilgrim in the voyage through hell.
The first canto also indicates the age of Dante when he have come to ‘moral reason’, which is depicted in the phrase ‘in the midway’ indicating climactic enlightenment at 35 years of the poet’s age.The lost woods and the guide, the ‘journey’ was fated. Fate was a strong belief in the Catholics. Dante then infused many elements in his narrative poem; he deliberately infused the moral characteristics/beliefs of Christian Catholicism with the wit/reason of Virgil and the comedy through famous characters and their foibles and tragedies represented in a ludicrous manner.
Dante was not simply meandering into the woods but reflecting and wallowing in bitterness. He was emotionally, and intellectually lost presumably because he bereaved for his beloved Beatrice and he does not find the reason for living. He does not understand death and what it represents neither does he understand the living and the twisted capacities of men. Enter Dante in the Woods, seduced by a three headed beasts, the lion and the she-wolves which would ‘foreshadow’ the things to come.
Foreshadowing is a tool adapted by Dante in his poem to create a story-like effect on the poem as well as to excite the readers on what was coming. Ironically, the order of the three animals which are representative of hell structures, are arranged backwards. Leopards represent malice and fraud the lowest division, lions represents violence, the middle hell division and the she-wolf, represent incontinence the first division. Dante must have wanted to establish a deductive approach in his narrative-poem, as in all forms of reasoning.
He was afraid of the she-wolf the most which indicates that he was guilty of the sins it represents. Dante interjected his personal nature even at the start of the poem.Dante was the representation of error, of mankind and all the things that they represent. He was at first suicidal, and he was guided through the hell by Virgil because of Holy intercession through the love of Beatrice.
Beatrice’s concern was only told by Virgil because she cannot transcend to the ‘dark woods’. Beatrice’s intercession gives us the first glimpse of the importance of true love and its value as a virtue. Dante illustrates human life as a pilgrimage from error to truth, from darkness to life, from isolation and alienation to complete association and communion. Life was compared to a journey (journey through hell) and that there was a divine purpose for the journey.
In the case of inferno, enlightenment was the ‘divine purpose.’He was accompanied by Virgil. This represents Dante’s personal preference for the philosopher. It was most probable that during the time of Dante, Virgil was presumed to be the greatest poet and sage that ever lived, the personification of human knowledge and human reason at their best.
The state of mind of Dante was, at that time, unreasonable and it was only with true reason that things as ‘sins’ and ‘life’ can be transmitted to Dante. Dante’s character is contrasted (softly) with Virgil. Virgil is virtuous but still resides in hell; Dante was sinful, although he still has hope for redemption. Dante’s message was very clear.
As long as there is life, there is still hope for redemption of sinful ways. Faith in god is an absolute requirement for passage to the pearly gates.Part III.One of the representative figures for the story is Ciacco.
Canto VI describes the third circle for the inferno as the ‘gluttonous’ and here he finds Ciacco. The third circle describes one of the sins of incontinence, gluttony, and the befitting penance—wallowing in garbage and filth, an allegorical symbol of the by-product the sinners’ gluttonous nature. The mythical Cerberus is adopted here as the guardian of hell but the creature is more ‘ravenous’ indicating his placement in the gluttonous circle.Dante, recently visited the second circle for the lusty sinners and it was observed that he commiserated with the couple Francesca and Paolo.
The pilgrim, feels commiseration for the sinners in the third circle Ciacco:MY sense reviving, that erewhile had droop’d With pity for the kindred shades, whence grief O’ercame me wholly, straight around I see New torments, new tormented souls, which way Soe’er I move, or turn, or bend my sight (Canto VI, Line 1-5).The commiseration Dante feels for the gluttonous indicates that sometime in his life he had committed the particular sin. In the Canto I, this was fleetingly allegorized by his fear of the she-wolf which is the generally pertains to the first section of hell, the sins for incontinence. The pilgrim tried to extend his commiseration and talks with Ciacco.
Thy city, heap’d with envy to the brim,Aye, that the measure overflows its bounds,Held me in brighter days.Ye citizens Were wont to name me Ciacco (Canto VI, Line 49-51)The character pig approached our pilgrim Dante and introduced himself as one of the members, of Dante’s homeland, Florence. Dante also feels sorry for the character. Ciacco is derived Ciriaco, so called from his inordinate appetite.
It advertently means a pig in Italian vernacular. Dante’s use of vernacular language was illustrated in some of the names of the characters, as in the case of Ciacco, lending a romantic and local flavor to the overall tone of the story. Until now, Ciacco’s character is definitum of the pig, a voracious character who eats and attacks everything that is presented to him. His appetites are humongous as indicated by the barrage of filth and the extent of his rain torment.
The character Ciacco was also unrepentant hence he was punished in the hell. He does not admit his mistake hence he was damned in hell eternally.For the sin Of gluttony, damned vice, beneath this rain,E’en as thou seest, I with fatigue am worn:Nor I sole spirit in this woe: all theseHave by like crime incurr’d like punishment.”No more he said ( Canto 6, Line 53-57)His inadmittance of his sins indicate the importance of repentance and accepting holy faith.
Whatever the sins, whether it is small or large, it will be punishable by the gravity of one’s sins. There is a murky view of Christians that all sins are punishable in hell. The type of punishment was never clarified yet Dante, in the medieval age, attempted to explain and extend to what is perhaps, the specificity of punishments in hell. Ciacco’s case was a primary example.
The offense was not that grave so the punishment was eternal torrents of icy rain within the backdrop of filth. Hierarchy of sins was implicit in Dante’s story, and offenses are punished by extent of damages it created. Ciacco’s punishment cannot be debated over. The huddling over, when comes it to the ceaseless torrent of rains denotes shame which the ‘sinners’ never acknowledge during their earthly life.
Ciacco hailed from Dante’s hometown Florence. Dante’s Ciacco character is not really clear. It was the first time the character was mentioned, meaning there was no literatures in the Medieval Ages before Dante’s Inferno that would pertain to the character. Giovanni Boccacio made reference to the character of Ciacco in his Novel VIII of the Ninth Day of Decameron.
The similarity between Boccacio and Dante’s works is unarguably the same: that Ciacco is a glutton, and yet this was the only time when the name Ciacco had appeared in the literatures of the Medieval Ages in Italy:I must tell you then,that, there was a man whom all called Ciacco, as great as a glutton as ever lived. His means sufficing him not to support the expense that his gluttony required, and he being for the rest a well-mannered man, and full of goodly and pleasant sayings, he addressed himself to be, not altogether a buffoon, but a spunger… (Decameron pg 451)This is the only clarification of Ciacco’s character so far. From Dante’s works it is difficult to pinpoint whose character he was actually referring to. Maybe he was referring to an enemy, a knowledgeable one at that, who displays greed.
It is known that Dante is a White Guelph who disfavors secular rule, particularly, that of Pope Boniface VIII. Most probably the unnamed Ciacco is a greedy politician seeking power favor from the ecclesiastical rule as a way of maintaining his power hold. Ciacco was considerably intelligent and even foretells the future of Florence:What shall at length befall the citizens of the divided city;whether any Just one inhabit there: and tell the cause,Whence jarring Discord hath assail’d it thus.”He then: “After long striving they will comeTo blood; and the wild party from the woodsWill chase the other with much injury forth.
Then it behooves that this must fall, withinThree solar circles; and the other riseBy borrow’d force of one, who under shore (Canto VI, line 50-60)Ciacco’s conversation foretells the future of Italy being ripped apart by opposing ideologies or rather the struggle for supremacy of power in the ruling politics of Florence. This reveals the chaotic political stature of Florence and the ugly motives of the politicians there. Indirectly, Dante queries on the fate of the incumbent politicians in Florence and Ciacco naturally points them deeper in hell. The infliction of political clashes was discreetly told but it was apparent that Dante was once again condemning his political enemies down to hell for all their sinful ways.
Dante was also concerned about state of Florence but through Ciacco, whose analysis of Florence was rather low or not detailed, he wants to communicate that most people, even him are always kept in a state of ignorance by erring politicians.Is this Dante’s way of moral justice? Perhaps. Through Ciacco, though, he not only inflicted vernacular tone to the poem’s narrative but rather created a political discourse, a suggestion of human ignorance in the face of erring politics. He is also suggesting that chaos is directly attributed to the so-called politicians.
Ciacco character, may perhaps occupy the lower positions in the government since the higher politicians and the religious orders are incriminated far below. Thus, we can say that Dante’s views on Italian politics are Ciacco-like. Works CitedBarbi, Michele, and P. G.
Ruggiers. (1997).Life of Dante The Purgatorio from the Divine Comedy. Sydney: Fowler Wright.
Boccaccio, G. (2003). Decameron. trans.
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“Dante as Dramatist: The Myth of the Earthly Paradise and Tragic Vision in the Divine Comedy.” Italica, 70 (2).Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy.
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Collier & Son, 1909–14Scott, John A. Dante’s Political Purgatory, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.;;
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