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Justice in Dante’s Poem “Inferno”

Even though justice is a very straightforward idea, its execution in many cultures remains a challenge. Dante Alighieri depicts a man’s journey through Hell in his famous epic poem, Inferno, a microcosm of society. A book depicts Hell as a place where many humans- historical, mythological, or contemporary-are incarcerated for their worst and most human traits. As seen in Dante’s Inferno, it is evident that justice is defined differently by people in different communities. Additionally, justice is the pursuit of perfect moral equity and fairness for all (Alighieri 135). Throughout the novel, the main characters’ choices influence the way justice is delivered. This is one way they attempt to balance their natural rights and the administration of justice. Through warped poetic justice, Dante crafts an enthralling narrative that depicts an ordinary person’s loss of grace while commenting on the nature of sin and its role in humans.

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Unlike lethal punishment, justice in Dante’s Inferno is not only cruel and unusual. Dante depicts God’s justice in the Inferno as love and compassion, but those who break the rule or moral code must pay their price. Using the term “counter-penalty,” Dante assures that this occurs. Here, the severity of a person’s punishment is determined by the type of his or her crime. A contrapasso is a reflection of the sin being punished, and this is the intent behind nearly every punishment in Dante’s Inferno (Alighieri 105). There, the uncommitted are punished in Dante’s Vestibule, which introduces the concept first. Because they were uncommitted in life, they are always chasing, but they never catch. Dante’s contrapasso is simple in the Vestibule, but as he descends farther into Hell, his contrapasso grows more intricate.

The wrathful and the gloomy are punished in the Styx River in Hell’s fifth circle. There are two types of anger: wrath and sullenness. Wrath is a physical expression of fury, while sullenness is a mental state. Sullen people should be punished for their self-pity and moping, according to Dante, because they were given a potential existence and instead wasted it on self-pity (Alighieri 55). Because they have spent much of their lives being gloomy and sulking, they’re now unable to speak. They spend the rest of their lives in a state of rage. As a result of everyone’s rage, conflict is inevitable and will continue to ensure for the rest of time. Anger and rage may have a devastating effect on a person’s life, which is why this contrapasso is so interesting (Carson 145). Wrathful people, on the other hand, will never be able to escape their wrathful feelings because they stated and exposed their wrathfulness, and they will also face the repercussions of their wrathfulness.

People who have committed violence against themselves and others are found in the seventh circle of Hell. According to the degree of murder, the river’s blood temperature rises or falls with the river’s blood. Attila the Hun and Alexander the Great are among those depicted in this group (Carson 145). It is only fair that in Hell, they are drenched in the boiling blood that they have poured, as they killed and conquered countless people in their fights. It is a clear counterpoint to the adage that those who shed blood are doomed to a life of retaliation (Alighieri 235). These people are depicted as thorny trees that are torn apart by Harpies and cannot be reunited with their corpses in the seventh circle of Hell. They are depicted as those who have committed violence against themselves or suicide. Because they stole their bodies while they were alive, they will be reduced to trees in Hell and will have no access to their former selves. As they are unable to reunite with their soul, their energy is likewise drained from them.

Dante also punishes individuals who were aggressive toward God, nature, and the economy in the final bag of his seventh circle. The blasphemers and those who are aggressive toward God were laying on burning sand. As a result of their belief that they were more powerful than God, they suddenly find themselves helpless in the face of God. Sodomites, on the other hand, wander through the streets. Since there were no offspring, they are regarded to have spent their energy on the Earth. In Hell, they’re wasting their time and effort by wandering through the sand (Alighieri 106). Finally, individuals who engage in violence against the economy or usury are punished by having their money purses tied around their necks. These people are an example of contrapasso, in that they earned their money through excessive interest and now must carry it around with them, yet they can’t spend it.

Throughout this depiction of a man’s fall into vice, the idea of poetic justice is prevalent. In Hell, everyone is punished according to their deeds. For each of the nine hells, Dante and Virgil are subjected to the proper punishments suggested by Alighieri. However, Alighieri’s ideas appear to influence the severity of the sins and the position of the sinners in Hell (Carson 145). The circle of Hell in which corrupt clerics and fraudsters are incarcerated is a lower, and hence more terrible, circle than the circle in which a murderer resides. As far as Alighieri is concerned, “violence upon thy neighbor” is more serious than betrayal or dishonesty (Alighieri 137). Putting simians even below heretics who openly deny God seems ludicrous, even if the severity of sins is subjective.

Alighieri’s punishments, on the other hand, are accurate representations of misdeeds. Murderers are submerged in a river of boiling blood at various depths in the first Girone (Alighieri 138). When they die, they are haunted by the blood they spilled while they were alive. Alighieri demonstrates his conviction that the greatest sins are those of deception by manipulating poetic justice to suit his purposes.

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It is in Limbo that non-Christians and people who lived before the rise of Christianity are punished for their moral virtue. For those who had never sinned but lacked baptism, Alighieri created the perfect location for them (Alighieri 235). Dante’s depiction of Limbo, which resembles the Asphodel Meadows, a part of the Greek underworld where indifferent and ordinary souls were banished to live after death, comprises unbaptized babies and renowned non-Christian adults (Reese, 389). Alighieri argues that those in Limbo are being punished for their agnosticism by being compelled to spend eternity in a less-than-perfect version of Heaven as a punishment (Alighieri 135). The souls of the departed wander, searching for the salvation to which they were before the blind. These souls cannot be punished harshly because they did not commit sin, and yet Alighieri’s poetic justice is nonetheless imposed because of this. Even if Limbo is less terrible, it is still far from paradise.

Virgil, Dante’s guide through the Inferno and the book’s epitome of human reasoning, was born before Christ and thus unfit for Heaven. In the end, he was only sentenced to Limbo because he led a moral life as a poet. Dante’s journey through Hell and Purgatory is permitted because of this. Julius Caesar, Aeneas, Plato, and Aristotle were also featured in the list of virtuous pagans. With his inclusion in Limbo, Alighieri humanizes these historical individuals while making it clear that ignorance of God is still condemned, regardless of the person’s status.

In conclusion, Dante has shown that God’s justice is shown to be loving and compassionate, but those who break the law or moral code must pay for their transgression. Contrapasso is a technique Dante employs to make sure this happens. Contrapasso is a punishment strategy he employs to ensure the severity of their punishment is commensurate with their offense. Contrapasso is particularly prominent in the Inferno’s Fifth Circle, which contains the wrathful and sullen, as well as the Seventh Circle, which contains the violent. A wonderful example of contrapasso can be seen in these two examples of anger-related offenses, which both result in the same punishment. When Dante’s pilgrim uses contrapasso, he learns crucial knowledge about his relationship with God, leading to remorse and reform for his community. For Alighieri, the punishment of sin is this realm’s equilibrium between good and evil. Alighieri makes plain his personal beliefs about what Hell should consist of while challenging the reader to question sin itself by applying his biased form of poetic justice and humanizing the victims of the Inferno.

Works Cited

Alighieri, Dante. The Inferno. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. Gen ed. Martin Puchner. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, Print.

Carson, N. A. Inferno. Lulu.com, 2019. Web.

Reece, Steve. “Chapter Fifteen. Homer’s Asphodel Meadow.” Homer’s Winged Words, 2019, pp. 389–400.

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