Specificity of Punishment in Dante's Inferno

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA-, February 2008

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One of the most famous and often used lines from Dante's Inferno comes from the inscription found above the gates of Hell. It speaks of enduring suffering eternally, and warns the condemned to "abandon every hope" (Canto III.9). Although God fashioned these gates Himself, the inscription seems to imply that He has no power in Hell. The condemned are warned not to hold out hope for anything, including the hand of God Himself. Although it could be argued that God merely chooses not to offer the sinners any assistance, the irreversibility expressed in the inscription points toward a more permanent condition, such as an inability to offer aid. Since God is mostly understood to be a loving, merciful deity, this interpretation makes it appear that God simply throws those who disobeyed his Word inside, without much thought as to the eternalness of His assignments. This haphazard and careless method of disposing of sinners does not, however, give the full impression of Dante's interpretation of God.

Hell is portrayed as much more organized and well-planned than it would be if God had no hand in it. The purposeful correlation between sin and punishment, the consideration of the severity of sin committed, and the highly regimented hierarchy of sin demonstrate that even in Hell itself, God's will prevails.

The correlation that Dante establishes between the sins a soul commits on earth and their punishment in Hell is impossible to overlook. The wrathful attack one another (Canto VII) , the gluttonous are forced to eat excrement (Canto VI), those who incite schisms are split in two (Canto XXVIII), and so on and so forth. The given punishments add irony to the piece through the sense of poetic justice that the reader feels is doled out. The sinners are punished in ways that...