The Allegory In Dante’s Inferno And Other Literary Devices

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

Inferno is the first part of of the epic poem, Divine Comedy written by Dante Alighieri. The poem has had an overall profound influence on literature since the comedy was first published and is considered the epitome of Italian literature. The poem’s interpretation of what Dante believes is what the afterlife looks like and the journey of Dante through hell. In addition to the poem’s Christian themes, the poem is also an allegory of Dante’s time period. Dante’s worldview at the beginning of the poem, like many poems with Christian themes, alludes to the general belief that man possess an immortal soul. The poem revolves around the interrelation of body, soul, and immortality. This interrelation occurs frequently throughout the poem. Maybe this is the reason Dante’s Inferno is considered one of the greatest poems and most popular poems from the Middle Ages and even to this day. Dante’s inspiration was molded by the modern-day creation of the earth and its atmosphere as well as human activity. He believed all land was condensed in the Northern Hemisphere and the South was covered with water. This is why Inferno begins somewhere near the earth’s surface in the North and travels down to the center where Lucifer lives. The narrator — who is never outright stated, possibly Dante himself — explores the three spaces that make up the setting for all three parts of Divine Comedy (inferno [hell], purgatorio [purgatory], and paradisio [heaven]).

Seeing as inferno is the first part of Divine Comedy, it sets the tone for the rest of the poem’s direction because it begins with recurring themes and ideologies throughout the last two installments. These recurring themes are, but not limited to, philosophy, theology and “body,” or, corporeal life and immortality. The poem as a whole is based around the judgement, politics, and theology of Dante’s time. The poem is set during the Easter holiday of 1300, though it took two decades to write and finish shortly before Dante’s death in the early 1320s. This also allowed Dante to incorporate historical events — every important event that happened between 1300 and 1321 — as a prognostication. Because of his disagreements with the church (he was ultimately exiled in 1301) and in particular with the pope, Boniface VIII, compelled him to write the poem as more than just your average theological symbolism. The poem also served as warning to his peers. The figures in each segment represented both judgment and condemnation on the people he knew. Dante believed he was writing the word of God to turn his rebellious time period.

Up until the 12th and 13th centuries, Christianity was more focused on relating Christianity with reasoning. Up until that point in time, reason and faith were viewed as anti-ethnic along with philosophy and theology. Thomas Aquinas began to change this presumption by arguing that reason and faith were equally important to the one true path that God exists, which Dante ultimately incorporated into Divine Comedy. This is the reason Dante’s poem is the turning point in the history of literature. In the west, Christian conceptions of the afterlife have progressed over the years. Many of the details in Inferno left a lasting impression on the West’s imagination for more than half a millennium. That being said, Dante still found ways to portray already attractively shaped concepts which helped to solidify them while also putting a spin on them and give a new form to semblance that would become familiar for the countless generations that follow.

The philosophy of the poem is a combination of the Bible, Roman Catholicism, mythology and medieval tradition. When Dante draws on his knowledge of the Bible, the poem is truthful and insightful and when he draws upon other sources, the poem deviates from the truth. However, while Dante’s poem seeks to understand the mystery surrounding life and death, it should be noted that Dante’s work was always intended to be literary, not theological. This has caused extreme popularity to this day. In Dante’s poem, the Roman poet Virgil guides Dante through the seven terraces of Purgatory which correspond to the seven deadly sins. Each terrace purges a particular sin until the sinner has been “purged” of all sin, only then is he able to proceed at some point to heaven. It should be noted, however, that Purgatory, the idea that sinners have another chance for salvation after death, is contradictory to the Bible. Scripture is very clear when it says that we are to “seek the Lord while He may be found” (Isaiah 55:6) and that once we die, we are subjected to judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

Many literary critics have speculated that the dreadful images of Inferno are a result of Dante’s own doubt about his own salvation. Whatever the case may be, the difference between the Inferno and the Bible’s depiction of hell are notable. For starters, Dante describes hell as being comprised of nine circles, each representing an increase of wickedness, where sinners are punished in a manner that befits their crimes. While the Bible does suggest a differing degree of punishment in hell, it says nothing of circles or varying depths of hell. There are also different types of punishment. Dante’s vision of hell involved eternal punishments such as souls being tormented by biting insects, wallowing in swampy ground, being immersed in boiling blood, being lashed with whips and lesser punishments such as having heads on backwards, chasing unreachable goals for eternity (similar to the fate of Sisyphus in Greek mythology), and walking endlessly in circles.

Within the context of Dante’s worldview, the rebirth he sought was not simply limited to the individual but was arguably universal. Just as Virgil was the poet who spoke of how the Roman empire grew to supremacy out of the ruins of Troy, so Dante desired the expansion of the Holy Roman Empire. Throughout the Divine Comedy, the theme of salvation by man’s work is prevalent. Purgatory is seen as a place where sins are purged through the sinner’s efforts, and heaven has differing levels of rewards for works done in life. Even in the afterlife, Dante sees man as continually working and striving for reward and relief from punishment, but the Bible tells us that heaven is a place of rest from striving, not a continuation of it. The Divine Comedy may be of interest to Christians as a literary work, but the Bible alone is our infallible guide for faith and life and is the only source of eternal truth. Over the centuries since it was written, imagery spawned by Dante’s fertile imagination has been absorbed to varying degrees by professing Christians everywhere. Yet, on the face of it, it seems strange that the pseudo-philosophical concept of the immortal soul should be so broadly accepted.  

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