Contrapasso in the Inferno

April 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

Instead of leaving all of Inferno’s sinners to burn in the traditional flames of Hell, Dante successfully uses contrapasso to build a world with unique psychological depth, and therefore a deeper potential for suffering. Contrapasso distinguishes each sinner by making his or her punishment uniquely appropriate to the sin so that every soul in Inferno inhabits an individual Hell of different thoughts, desires, and pains. As Dante moves into Purgatorio and Paradisio and still sees distinctions between souls according to their Earthly characteristics, it is tempting to say that contrapasso continues to define a soul’s existence throughout the Comedy. But though contrapasso works so brilliantly in Inferno, Dante does not use this technique of separation as a central theme when building an effective Purgatorio and Paradisio. This shift away from the human isolation of contrapasso and towards a unity of desire and purpose helps Dante create a vision of Purgatorio and Paradisio both uniquely peaceful and awe-inspiring.The effectiveness of contrapasso in punishing Inferno’s sinners is apparent in the isolated position of Master Adam, for whom contrapasso creates an individual world unique to his sin. Dante meets Adam, a coin counterfeiter, in the Tenth Pouch of the Eighth Circle, where the Fraudulent suffer together. Adam’s body is unnaturally disfigured so that he appears “fashioned like a lute” (Canto XXX line 49) and he can not move from his spot. His immobility and deformity are appropriate to his sin, the distortion of metals, an occupation that allowed him everything he desired on Earth. In the Eighth Circle, he is not only physically distorted but also psychologically affected: the two things that he most longs for are water and revenge on his fellow falsifiers, both goals that require movement. He says:alive, I had enough of all I wanted;alas, I now long for one drop of water.. . . I am racked by memory ­ the image of their [streams of the Arno] flow parches me morethan the disease that robs my face of flesh. (Canto XXX, lines 62-69)Master Adam’s world is eternally limited to his internal suffering, his mind forever stuck on revenge against his fellow sinners and his inability to fulfill his desires. His punishment isolates Master Adam forever from his fellow men.Another sinner that helps elucidate contrapasso’s effectiveness is Brunetto Latini and his conversation with Dante in the Third Ring of the Seventh Circle of Inferno. The Seventh Circle contains Sodomites who were Violent Against God and Dante has a hard time even recognizing Brunetto, his old mentor and teacher, from among a group of souls running under a rain of fire. Brunetto’s face is badly scorched and he must keep their meeting brief so as not to fall behind the group he is running with. His sins continue to dominate his existence and act as the instrument of his punishment. The indignity of the old and respected master’s position makes his punishment not only physically appropriate ­ the raining fire akin to the homosexual passion he could not control on Earth ­ but also psychologically so. Indeed, Brunetto never discusses his sin directly and instead discusses politics and earthly matters with Dante. But Brunetto’s only hope is for earthly fame and to be remembered in the great encyclopaedic work he left behind, the Tesoro: “Let my Tesoro, in which I still live, / be precious to you; and I ask no more” (Canto XV, line 119-120) are his parting words as he races off to join his fellow sinners. Because of his homosexuality, Brunetto did not leave his name behind through his offspring, the natural way, but instead wants his name to live through his work. This pride in his work plays a crucial role in his punishment because fame and respect are things he can never attain from his humiliating position in Inferno. These obsessions are unique to Brunetto, placing him alone in his torment and separated from the many other souls in Inferno who each have their own private Hell of desire and pain.This severe isolation is lessened in Purgatorio, where the characters experience a transitional form of contrapasso, one that takes them from the Inferno’s eternal punishment to the timeless unity of Paradisio. In one sense, contrapasso still exists in each of Purgatorio’s terraces where the souls purge their sins through punishments directly related to their faults on Earth. However, the contrapasso does not define the center of their existence: the souls are not consumed with their sin as the sinners in Inferno are. Instead, all of the pilgrims in Purgatory want to discard their Earthly distinctions, wash away their sins, and move towards a unity in God, a goal they share as they suffer together. One can argue that contrapasso still remains in the suffering accorded them on each terrace, but their ultimate and most painful punishment is their distance from God and an awareness of a Paradise they have yet to reach. Dante begins to observe this new harmony in Purgatorio when he reaches the Second Terrace where the Envious purge their sins. He greets the souls with:”You who can be certain,”I then began, “of seeing that high lightwhich is the only object of your longing,may, in your conscience, all impuritysoon be dissolved by grace, so that the streamof memory flow through it limpidly”. (Canto XIII, lines 85-90)After seeing the eyes of the Envious sewn shut (because it was through their vision that they envied others), Dante feels compassion for them but realizes that their unified desire is to forget their sin through this physical pain and experience God’s love. Whereas contrapasso works in the Inferno by trapping the sinners with their painful memories forever, Dante recognizes that these souls wish for only a “limpid” memory of their past. Purgatorio’s souls not only share a disdain for their personal pasts, but also a desire for a unity with God and the other souls. Guido del Duca, one of the souls on the Second Terrace, cries out against the isolated heart of a sinner when he admits his envy on Earth to Dante and entreats him: “o humankind, why do you set your hearts / there where our sharing cannot have a part?” (Canto XIV, lines 86-87). Dante later questions Virgil on what Guido meant by this “sharing” and Virgil explains that:when your longings center on things [sins that need purging]. . . then envy stirs the bellows of your sighs.But if the love within the Highest Sphereshould turn your longings heavenward, the fearinhabiting your breast would disappear;for there, the more there are who would say “ours”,so much the greater is the good possessed by each ­so much more love burns in that cloister. (Canto XV, lines 49-57) Therefore we see that the greatest goal for the Purgatory characters is to leave behind and purge their distinctive sins and human qualities in order to become one with God and with their fellow souls. The inhabitants of Purgatory do not suffer in a private Hell for their sins on Earth as we saw in Inferno, but instead focus as a united group on God and their desire to make their own free will at one with God’s. Though Dante witnesses many brutal punishments in Purgatorio that draw his pity and compassion, the souls do not seem to concern themselves as much with the contrapasso-like pain as the souls in Inferno did. Their greatest punishment is that the sins they must purge prevent them from receiving God’s love in full and delay their entrance into Paradisio. Whereas in Inferno, each sinner voiced his own desires, whether it was for Earthly fame or revenge, the characters in Purgatorio request the same thing — only that Dante pray for them when he reaches Paradisio or remind family members to pray for them in Purgatory.This disregard for Earthly pain can be seen in Dante’s meeting with the poets Guido Guinizzelli and Arnaut Daniel in the Seventh Terrace of Purgatory where the Lustful (heterosexual and homosexual) are punished. Their sin of excessive lust as well as their fame on Earth make this scene a striking parallel to Dante’s meeting with Brunetto in Inferno. Just as with Brunetto, Dante sings his appreciation for Guido Guinizzelli’s work after recognizing him, but Guido’s reaction immediately separates him from Brunetto. He unconcernedly brushes off Dante’s compliments, declaring the greater talent of Arnaut, another soul on the Seventh Terrace, and asks Dante to pray for him in Paradise as he runs away with his group. Dante speaks soon after with Arnaut, who also refuses to speak of his work on Earth as if it were inconsequential, declaring that:with grief, I see my former folly;with joy, I see the hoped-for day draw near.Now, by the Power that conducts you tothe summit of the stairway, I pray you:remember, at time opportune, my pain! (Canto XXVI, lines 143-147)Whereas Brunetto suffers alone wanting only for his work to gain Earthly fame, both Arnaut and Guido long to forget their past writing and sins in their fervor to reach God. The last words of each master artist further cement the difference between Inferno’s contrapasso and Purgatorio’s new unified vision. Brunetto’s existence and all his desires relate directly to his personality and individual qualities on Earth: contrapasso demands that he will always be trapped and consumed with his sins. Guido and Arnaut, in contrast, share the same desire to move closer to God, just as all the other many characters Dante encounters in Purgatorio: despite their current purging and their different accomplishments as humans, their existence is no longer defined by their sins but by their increasing capacity and devotion to God. As Dante leaves Purgatorio and moves into Paradisio, he once again sees a separation of the inhabitants in their placement on different spheres according to their faults and assets on Earth. Despite this distinction, however, this is not the contrapasso that Dante uses in Inferno. Dante’s guide Beatrice explains that the spheres are not a reality as the circles of Hell were because all those souls grace the Empryean;and each of them has gentle life ­ though somesense the Eternal Spirit more, some less.They showed themselves to you here not becausethis is their sphere, but as a sign for youthat in the Empryean their place is lowest. (Canto IV, lines 34-39)Though the souls have different places in Paradise, their relative positions do not dictate their happiness or constitute the focus of their existence; it merely symbolizes their differing capacities for God’s love. An example of this seeming paradox, wherein all souls are unified and happy despite their higher or lower positions in Dante’s eyes, is Piccarda, who appears on the sphere of the Moon in a lower position in the Empryean because of her inconstancy on Earth. Dante immediately questions whether she desires to be in a higher sphere, to which she gently answers,Brother, the power of love appeases ourwill so ­ we only long for what we have;we do not thirst for greater blessedness.. . . to live in love is ­ here ­ necessity,. . . The essence of this blessed life consistsin keeping to the boundaries of God’s will;. . . all this kingdom willsthat which will please the King whose will is rule.And in His will there is our peace. (Canto III, lines 70-85)Piccarda’s thoughts are not consumed with her life on Earth or her individual position but instead with receiving God’s love — she even uses the plural voice, saying “we” instead of “I”. So though the individual qualities of each soul dictate their capacities for receiving God’s love in Paradise, the ultimate reward for the souls here has no relation to their human qualities on Earth but is instead the same for all souls: the peace of being at one with God’s will. The individuality of the contrapasso in Inferno, and its purpose of assigning uniquely appropriate existences to each soul, is not found in the unity and singular focus among the souls in Paradisio.Perhaps one of the most individually distinctive souls in Paradisio is Cunizza, and the ease with which she dismisses her unique character on Earth for the shared goal of peace and unity in God provides a strong example for the absence of contrapasso. Dante meets Cunizza in the Sphere of Venus, where those who were influenced by amorous love are grouped. Cunizza was a famed woman with many lovers and husbands, and her appearance in Paradise may be surprising to Dante’s contemporaries who were aware of her reputation. But her excessive love also meant she was compassionate and warm and she apparently turned her energies to God in her later life. Despite her fame on Earth and location in Venus, Cunizza does not experience Paradise any differently than the other souls around her. She says . . . I shine herebecause this planet’s radiance conquered me.But in myself I pardon happilythe reason for my fate; I do not grieve ­ and vulgar minds may find this hard to see. (Canto IX, lines 32- 36)She goes on to comment on the political scene in Dante’s home city of Florence and concludes her speech with “Above are mirrors — Thrones is what you call them –/ and from them God in judgement shines on us;/ and thus we think it right to say such things” (Canto IX, lines 61-63). So after she dismisses her renowned past on Earth, she goes on to evaluate Dante’s politics according to God’s judgement, using “we” instead of “I”, thus dismissing her identity in favor of speaking collectively with God’s will. Cunizza’s thoughts and focus are not on her own unique excessive love on Eart ­ she dismisses that outright. Instead, her reward in Paradise is the same as all the other souls. Dante says it best, when he realizes that “every place/ in Heaven is in Paradise” (Canto III, line 88).When one so examines the desires and thoughts of the souls in the Comedy it is apparent that contrapasso no longer operates as the central focus in Purgatorio and Paradisio. In the Inferno, each character is consumed with their own distinct thoughts directly related to his or her individual sin: often they involve Earthly fame, revenge, or politics. The sinners are isolated from those around them and face a tormenting eternity of unfulfilled hopes and desires. In contrast, while the souls of Purgatorio are still assigned punishments directly related to their sin, there exists a unity among their thoughts and desires. Time and again, the souls Dante talks with quickly dismiss their own lives on Earth and their sins as stumbling blocks on the path to their higher goal: a union with God. This unity of thought and desire among the souls is a continuous theme as Dante travels to Paradisio, where the distinction between souls is even less tangible and the unity of their thoughts and desires is always the same ­ God and His love. Though the individual qualities of each soul correlates to their capacity for receiving God’s love, Paradise leaves each soul completely satisfied and thus all are unified in their will (one with God’s Will) and focus. Dante’s use of contrapasso in the Inferno followed by a move away from it towards collective feeling in Paradisio perhaps reveals something about his conception of happiness and love: an insistence on individuality, isolation, and Earthly fame can only lead to an eternity of unfulfilled desires, while leaving behind our personal demands in favor of God’s will can leave us ultimately satisfied in our need for love and comfort ­ Dante’s Paradise defined.

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