The Concept of Hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy
Dante, in the middle of his life, gets lost and finds himself in a dark forest, after having spent the night in the morning he arrives at the foot of a hill illuminated by the sun. Dante begins to climb the hill but suddenly there is a loin before him, then a hungry lion and then a she-wolf, these 3 animals symbolize lust, pride and avarice and then is forced to retreat. Once he was relegated to the dark forest at Dante, Virgilio appears to him, his model of a poet who shows him an alternative way, so Virgilio offers him as a guide through the three kingdoms of the afterlife. Virgil will be able to guide him only in hell and in purgatory because in heaven Virgil can not enter because he was born before Christ. Dante thinks why he had been chosen to make this journey in the afterlife because they have done it before him are Aeneas and St. Paul. Virgilio tells Dante that this trip was wanted by three women: Beatrice, the Madonna and Santa Lucia. Dante feels invigorated and is definitely ready to make the trip.
Virgil and Dante arrive before the entrance to hell. On the door of hell there is a writing that scares Dante but is reassured by Virgil immediately. Sighs, cries, loud laments and claps of hands were the background in hell. The noises that are heard come from those who lived without infamy in praise and from the angels who did not rebel were loyal to God in the battle between Lucifer and God. Virgil does not want to dwell on them and continues but gives a look and sees that the souls are chasing a flag that moves without stopping as they are pricked by bats and wasps. They reach the bank of the river acheron where the caronte approaches and tells him to go away because he is still alive. Virgil tells Charon that this journey is wanted by God and therefore Charon gives the go-ahead to pass. Dante is told that he is not destined to end up in Hell. Suddenly an earthquake comes and Dante faints. Dante awakens when he has already arrived on the other side of the river, there are only sighs as sub-floors caused by a spiritual only suffering. Virgil is part of those souls, that is the characters of antiquity who have not received baptism and children who died without being baptized. For this reason the souls are condemned to the eternal to live in the desire of God even if they can never see it. The journey continues in the darkness.
Dante and Virgilio descend into the second circle. Minors who act as infernal judges are in front of them, Minos listens to the sins of sinners and through the number of times that wraps the tail the sinners are sorted in the different circles. When Dante Minos’ turn came he told him not to go into hell as it is a place of sorrow but Virgil told him that this was wanted by God, so minosse put his tail in part and let Dante and Virgilio pass. They entered the second circle and there was an incessant wind that made the souls spin like a tornado, the place was completely devoid of light. Lustful ones subjugate reason to desire: Dante and Virgil stop talking to a couple who seemed to fly lighter than others in the wind. The couple tells the reason for their imprisonment in the circle of the lustful. Dante for mercy loses consciousness and falls to the ground. At the entrance of the second circle, Minosse assigns to sinners the place where they will turn their sentences. Inside the spirits of the lustful are dragged by an incessant storm. Paolo and Francesca, unhappy lovers killed by her husband, tell Dante their story; these are moved and faint again.
Upon awakening Dante finds himself in the third circle, where the damned for the sin of throat lie prostrated by a dark rain, mixed with hail and snow, and are torn apart by Cerberus, a monstrous three-headed dog with human elements. As soon as Virgilio has calmed the ferocity of the keeper by feeding him a handful of earth, a damned person sits up and calls Dante’s attention, telling him to be Florentine and to call himself Ciacco. To Dante’s questions about the future of Florence, the present situation and the causes of current discord, Ciacco responds by prophesying a first, ephemeral, success of the white Guelphs followed shortly by a more lasting victory of the black part; therefore the damned expresses a severe judgment on the moral condition of the city and indicates in the vices the origin of the disputes. Finally, after giving news on the ultramundane destiny of eminent Florentine characters, Ciacco falls back to the ground. Then Dante and Virgil resume their journey and, speaking of the fate of the damned after the universal judgment, they arrive at the edge of the fourth circle, where Pluto awaits them. The fourth circle, guarded by the demon Pluto, the Greek god of wealth, is that of the greedy and the prodigal, condemned to push heavy boulders with his chest. Dante and Virgilio then reach the Stygian marsh, where they are submerged iridescent and slothful. The former beat each other and bite each other, the latter lie beneath the surface.
Along the banks of the Stige Dante and Virgilio they arrive at the foot of a tower, from the top of which there are luminous signs. These turn out to be warning notices for Flegiàs, the infernal ferryman who, repressing anger, accepts the two on his boat. During the navigation one of the irate punished in the swamp addresses with arrogance to Dante: the Florentine Filippo Argenti who, after a brief exchange of abusive jokes, tries to attack the boat but is driven back by Virgil in the mud where he is torn apart by the other damned. Finally, the boat arrives in front of the walls of the city of Dite, red for the fire, protected by a bevy of devils that prevent Dante and Virgilio from entering the lower Inferno. Not even the words of Virgil manage to persuade the devils to bow to the divine will: in the face of their hostility and the discomfort of his guide Dante is taken by terror, even if Virgilio reassures him and announces the arrival of someone able to help them. On the towers of the cities appear the Erinni, who call Medusa to turn Dante into stone. However, a celestial messenger intervenes, opening the doors of Dite and letting the poets enter. Within the walls, heretics lie in fiery sepulchres set in a boundless plain.
One of the damned, Farinata degli Uberti, recognizes Dante and calls him to himself; he warns the poet that his return to Florence will be very troubled. From another sepulcher Cavalcante de ‘Cavalcanti asks Dante for news of his son Guido. Then the two poets resume their journey. Dante and Virgilio, to become accustomed to the intolerable stench, take shelter behind the tomb of Pope Anastasio II. Taking advantage of the stop, Virgilio explains to Dante the arrangement of hell. There are still three circles to cross, the seventh, eighth and ninth, where the violent, the fraudulent and the traitors are punished respectively. Out of the city of Dite there are sinners for incontinence. This arrangement corresponds to the examination of the vices made by Aristotle in the Ethics. We are in the first circle of the seventh circle, guarded by the Centaurs. Here the violent against the next lie in the Flegetonte, a river of boiling blood. The centaur Nessus shows Dante some of the damned, including Alexander the Great, Guido di Monfort, Attila and Pirro. In the second group, guarded by the Harpies, are the violent against themselves, or suicides, turned into plants, and the scialacquatori, pursued and bitten by hungry bitches. Dante rips a twig from a plant, which begins to speak: it is Pier delle Vigne, who prays Dante to rehabilitate his memory. In the third group, in a fiery desert, the violent against God in the person, or the blasphemers, are lying on the ground under a rain of fire; among them is the giant Capaneo. Dante and Virgil arrive at the source of the Flegetonte, and here the second explains to the former the origin of the infernal rivers. Still walking on the stone embankment of the stream of blood, Dante and Virgilio advance into the seventh circle: they are met by running a group of sodomites, violent against nature. One of them, with great amazement, recognizes Dante and draws his attention: Dante thus meets his master Brunetto Latini, Florentine politician and intellectual, who, to speak a few moments with the ancient student, abandons the host of his companions penalty. Brunetto praises the disciple and, after having predicted the hostility of his fellow citizens, attacks severely the moral and political behavior of the Florentine factions and exhorts Dante not to care for the bad fate, so much is the honor that his qualities reserve him. So he indicates to him other sodomites, like him all illustrious intellectuals and writers; finally, not before having entrusted him with the moral legacy of his most significant work, the Tresor, runs away to reach the ranks with which he is punished and not to be joined by another group of damned advances.
Dante is recognized by three Florentines, who ask him if the bad news about Florence is learned from a damn just arrived in hell, Guglielmo Borsiere; Dante responds with a bitter invective against the corruption of his city. Continuing in the journey, the two poets arrive to the abyss into which the Flegetonte falls, and they see a horrible monster rise from it: Geryon, symbol of fraud. Gerion holds the third group, that of the violent in art, ie usurers, seducers and flatterers. The first sit at the edge of the desert, near the abyss, with the neck of the bags bearing the emblem of their family. Dante and Virgilio climb up to Gerione, who takes them to the bottom of the abyss. Gerione let Dante and Virgilio descend at the entrance to the eighth circle, called Malebolge because it is divided into ten concentric ditches – the bolges precisely – connected by rock bridges: the place is dominated by the ferrous color of the stone and the center ends in a deep well. In the first pit, the damned are divided into the two ranks of the ruffians and seducers, who proceed neatly in the opposite direction, as they do on pilgrimage on the Angelic Bridge in Rome during the Jubilee; walking on the Dante river he can recognize among the ruffians the Bolognese Venedico Caccianemico, who briefly exposes him to his fault. From the bridge it is possible to see in the face also the damned of the other ranks, among which Virgil indicates Giasone, head of the Argonauts and seducer of Isifile and Medea. In the second pit the flatterers are immersed in the dung: here Dante recognizes the Lucchese Alessio Interminelli and, thanks to Virgilio’s suggestion, he can see Taide, a prostitute of the classical comedy, while scratching with the gross fingernails.
In the third pit the simoniaci are stuck upside down in the stone; tongues of fire burn the soles of their feet. Dante questions one, Pope Nicholas III; he exchanges the poet for Boniface VIII, who should take his place in the hole by pushing him further down and ranting against him. Dante gives a speech against the Simoni popes. In the fourth pit the counterpoint punishes the human presumption of divining the future: the soothsayers have their head and neck turned backwards, so that, not being able to look forward, they are forced to walk backwards proceeding slowly and wetting their backs with tears. Even Dante does not hold back crying at the sight of the human figure so disfigured, but he is bitterly reproached for his unmotivated compassion in the face of divine justice; then Virgil shows him the magicians and the soothsayers of antiquity, Tiresia, Arunte, and Manto who offers him the way to narrate the origin of the city of Mantua. At the request of Dante, the guide points out other fortune tellers, Euripilo, Michele Scotto, Guido Bonatti and Asdente, only hinting to sorcerers and sorcerers. Finally, Virgil exhorts the student to resume the journey, because the moon is about to set under Seville and then on the earth it is about six o’clock in the morning.
Dante and Virgilio are on the bridge that crosses the fifth pit, filled with boiling pitch in which the baratters are immersed, invisible. Suddenly a devil appears on the bridge carrying a damned on his shoulder: throwing him into the pitch, he informs his companions and the two spectators that he is one of the elders of Lucca, a city full of public administrators who are enriched by selling the prerogatives granted for money at their offices. The Lucchese tries to free himself from the pitch, emerging at the surface, but the devils in charge of keeping the damned threaten to tear it down with their hooks if not kept well hidden within the pitch. After having made Dante hide, Virgilio arrives on the sixth embankment to deal with the devils who in the meantime have come out of their den under the bridge: from the chief Malacoda gets the assurance of his and his student, who then recalls from the hiding place. Malacoda offers the two a stock of ten devils until the next passage for the next pit, as the sixth bridge collapsed following the earthquake concomitant with the death of Christ. The devil mixes truth and lies, because the earthquake has brought down all the bridges and there is no viable passage on the sixth bolgia. Reluctantly compelled to accept the offer, Dante and Virgilio set off on the embankment in the company of the menacing and tragicomic escort.
For fear that the ten devils, mocked by Ciampolo and humiliated by plunging into pitch, may pursue them and harm their safety, Virgilio rushes towards the sixth bolgia carrying Dante in his arms as a mother does with her son: as soon as they are safe, two see the devils appear on the bank, now inoffensive because they are unable to move away from the ditch to which divine justice has ordered them. The new pit is crowded by hypocrites, who walk slowly under the weight of leaded, externally gilded hoods. While the two proceed by walking on the bottom of the pit, a damned Dante recognizes his Tuscan speech and invites him to stop with him and his partner in pain: the two hypocrites are the Catalan bolognesi Malavolti and Loderingo of the Andalò, founders of the order of the Knights of Mary (popularly called Godenti friars), who together were podestàs in Florence. Caifas is crucified on the ground of the pit, who thus condones the death sentence of Christ together with the other members of the Sanhedrin. Finally, Virgilio asks Catalan to show him the way to the ascent: he discovers that all the bridges on the bolgia have collapsed, and that the devil Malacoda has lied to him.
Before leaving the ninth pit Dante searches with his eyes in it a relative, Geri del Bello, sower of discord, whose violent death has remained unsold, but Virgil reminds him that the shadow of this relative has passed under the bridge , showing disdain and threatening him with his finger, when he was all intent on observing Bertran de Born. Once again, the two pilgrims reach the last pit of the eighth circle, where the falsifiers are found, divided into four categories: metal falsifiers with alchemy, falsifiers of people, falsifiers of coins, falsifiers of words. With the body deformed by horrible morphs lie in piles or crawling the alchemists. Two of these damned attract the attention of Dante: they sit, leaning on each other’s back, and try, with furious impatience, to get rid of the crusts that cover them entirely. The Senese were burned at the stake, the first, Griffolino d’Arezzo, for not having kept faith in the promise to raise in flight, new Daedalus, a fool; the second, Capocchio, for having falsified metals, by that excellent imitator of nature that was alive.
Suddenly appear two souls, mad with fury: one pounces on Capocchio da Siena, and biting him around his neck drags him, the other on Griffolino. But before being eaten, the Aretino reveals to Dante the identity and the sin of the two: they are the Florentine Gianni Schicchi and Mirra, who pretended to be another person to obtain favors from a will, one for the other commit adultery with his father. So Dante appears to be a damned, with a bloated belly for dropsy, who confesses that he is a master Adam, and falsified the florin of Florence on behalf of the Counts Guidi da Romena, in the Casentino. At the invitation of Dante, Maestro Adamo denounces the identity of two of his fellow prisoners who seem to smoke because of the fever: one is the wife of Putifarre who unjustly accused Joseph, the other forger is the Greek Sinone who, pretending to be friend, he convinced the Trojans to let the horse of trickery into the city. Sinone reacts to the complaint of master Adam, and the two give life to a fight made of tragicomic blows and mutual accusations. Dante remains intent on following the dispute until Virgil’s reproaches distract him for showing such vulgar interest.
Dante and Virgilio leave Malebolge, and, having passed the last rocky bank, find themselves immersed in the twilight and hear a horn sound more terrible than the one launched from Orlando to Roncesvalles. For the lack of light, Dante thinks he sees the towers of a city that are instead, explains Virgilio, giants stuck around the well from the waist down: as they approach, the error decreases and Dante’s fear increases. At the edge of the well Virgilio shows his pupil Nembrot, the giant responsible for the construction of the tower of Babel, now unable to speak a comprehensible language, then Fialte who challenged Jupiter trying to climb the Olympus and is now chained so as not to being able to move, while Briareo, of whom Dante has asked for news, is immobilized farther and is not visible. Next to Nembrot is Antaeus, the giant killed by Hercules, driven free by chains because he did not take part in the revolt against Jupiter: after having coaxed him, Virgil asks him to transport him to the bottom of the well. Antaeus can not oppose the request, then extends his hand and grabs Virgil, who in turn holds Dante to himself; finally he lays the two on the icy expanse of Cocito.
Cocito is divided into zones: in the Caina the traitors of the relatives are immersed in the ice up to the head, held down; in the Antenor the traitors of the homeland have instead the head turned upwards: among them Bocca degli Abati and Gano di Maganza. Dante sees a damned gnawing the head of another, and asks Bocca the name of both. The damned who gnaws at his head is Count Ugolino della Gherardesca, his victim Archbishop Ruggeri. Dante and Virgilio then pass through the area known as Tolomea, where the traitors of their friends keep their heads so upright that tears freeze their eyes: between them Friar Alberigo and Branca Doria. The last area of Cocito is the Giudecca, where the traitors of the benefactors are completely immersed in the ice. Now Dante and Virgil are in front of Lucifer, infixed in the ice from the waist down. It has three heads, and each of its three mouths tears a sinner: the first Judas, the second Brutus, the third Cassius. The two poets cling to Lucifer’s body and descend it, passing through the southern terrestrial hemisphere. Through a narrow gut they manage to return to the surface at the antipodes.
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