The Divine Comedy – Inferno
The epic poem Divine Comedy (La Divina Comedia) by Dante Alighieri is one of the important works in the world of literature because of its extensive use of allegorical and symbolical images of literary works related to the notion of the Christian view of the afterlife. The Comedy is divided into three parts or cantos: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The poem narrates in first person, the journey of the author himself as he travels to hell, purgatory, and heaven in search of Beatrice, a woman the author had met during his childhood. Alighieri’s family belonged to the Guelphs during the 13th century. The Guelphs were in constant struggle with Ghilebellines wherein the Guelphs favored the authority of the papacy over the Roman Emperor. The Guelphs eventually split into two factions, the Black and White. Alighieri belonged to White Guelphs who were eventually exiled from Florence. Dante’s exile became the theme of his whole work, basing the symbolism and allegories from past feuds against his opponents, who some were mentioned in the passages of the Inferno.
The story begins with Dante finding himself a night before Good Friday on a dark area of the woods. It is mentioned that Dante is ‘halfway through his life’ (Alighieri, Canto I) and that the dark part of the woods represented confusion or a contemplation between hopelessness bordering on suicide. He continues the path but cannot find the right one. He is assailed by beasts including lion, leopard, and a female wolf, symbolizing sin or temptations in committing sin. He is eventually rescued by Virgil, the ancient Roman poet who accompanies him to the entrance of hell. Thus, the journey toward Inferno begins. The realm of the Inferno, according to Dante, is a contrapasso wherein each circle of hell represents the different sins against God and the punishment is with accordance with what they did while they were living. An example of which are dead fortune-tellers who are condemned to walk backwards and have their heads turned around – an ironic symbolism of the lives they used to live. The two pilgrims then venture toward the nine circles of hell. The first circle contained Limbo, which housed virtuous yet unbaptized pagans who did not accept Christ in spite of their virtuous life. Some notable characters found in the circle were the Greek philosophers Socrates, Aristotle, the poets Homer, Ovid, and Horace. The Christian concept of Limbo shares the same similarities as that of the Greek Elysian Fields where the damned are punished with an incomplete concept of heaven, something beyond their rational understanding, which was only possible through baptism “the portal of faith” (Alighieri, Canto IV). The second circle housed the sinners of lust, punished through a haze of storm. The Third Circle housed the gluttons, the Fourth, avaricious, the Fifth, wrathful, sixth, the Heretics, the seventh subdivided into three rings: (outer ring: violence against property, middle, the suicides, and the inner ring housed the blasphemes). The Eight and Ninth Circle contains the notable names in the classical and biblical literature such as Cain, Judas Iscariot, and Satan.
The Inferno provides an allegorical presentation of medieval Christian beliefs on the concept of sin, redemption, and faith. Using the different literary context from the past ages, Dante conceptualizes the world of hell, purgatory and heaven through his own experiences with Christianity. Again, each section of Inferno and Purgatorio are symbols of poetic justice that punish sinners with appropriate penitence of their sins. Virgil, the Roman poet, forever belongs to Limbo, as he is seen disappearing from Dante as his guide as they enter heaven. In addition, the Inferno enumerates the different Christian values and belief, all representing the idea of redemption, penitence, and hope. The Comedy also is a synthesis of different mythological symbols coupled with the traditions of Christian beliefs and faith.
Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. Vol. 1, Inferno. trans. Mark Musa. London: Penguin Books, 2003.