In his poem The Divine Comedy. The Inferno, Dante Alighieri gives his
audience a clear vivid presentation of what he as a follower of the
Christian religion perceives to be hell. Dante shows that human sin is
punishable in various degrees of severity and that this is dependent on
the nature of one^?s sinful actions. He sets forth what could very well be
the most fully developed Christian understanding of justice on earth, and
that is; that what we do as human beings will determine what happens to us
in the event of death based on God^?s judgment. In writing his poem Dante
uses symbolism, allegorism and imagery among other literary effects to
place his poem analogically to life as it was during his day and age.
Dante structures The Inferno around thirty four cantos. Each of these
cantos marks a steady progression from the mildest to the worst of sins.
The cantos depict sinners under various forms of punishment which are
commensurate to the nature of their sins.
Dante categorizes sin into three different categories of fraud,
incontinence and violence. In canto I he mentions three animals namely , a
leopard, a lion and a she-wolf. These animals act as symbolisms for the
various types of sins. The sin^?s depicted in canto XVIII are symbolized
by the she-wolf which acts as a symbol for the sins of fraud. The sins of
fraud are placed the furthest from God in the deepest pits of hell, near
Satan. In canto XVIII Dante and his guide Virgil find themselves in the
eighth circle, called the Malebolge. It is in the Malebolge, that each of
the kinds of simple fraud are punished in the concentric ditches.
In the first ditch, Dante sees two files of naked sinners each running in
opposite direction, whipped by demons. These sinners are the panderers and
the seducers. Dante recognizes Venedico Caccianemico, a man he once knew.
Venedico in this case is depicted as having sold his sister, Ghisola to
serve the will and lust of another man, Marquis. Dante at this point uses
a fellow contemporary to show what happens when one goes against the will
of God and sins. Venedico betrays his family ties and his indifference in
this act results in his eternal punishment of being whipped by demons.
Also mentioned as having been punished is Jason, who suffers punishment
for having seduced and abandoned Hypsipyle and Medea. For these two
sinners Dante^?s allegory revolves around the law of retributive justice
where both Venedico^?s and Jason^?s psychology^?s at the time of
committing sin are tied in with the punishment of whip lashing by demons.
Both sinners place their personal needs and interests above others and are
now placed under the whip lashing and oppressive command of indifferent
Dante and Virgil move over to a bridge and below it, Dante sees the ditch
of the flatterers. It is in this trench that persons who had sinned as
flatterers are punished by being made to wallow in a river of human
excrement from which emanates nauseating fumes. Dante recognizes Alessio
Interminelli da Lucca. Allesio is smeared all over with excrement. Virgil
alerts Dante of the presence of yet another sinner, Tha?s. Tha?s is
punished in the same way as Alessio, but is made to alternatively rise and
crouch in the river of excrement. Tha?s is punished for being a prostitute
and for a flattering lie that she told while in the trade. The punishment
that this two consequently suffer is the eternal stench and filth of the
ditch. Tha?s in this canto perpetuates the image of ingenuine love which
turns out to be a mere outlet for bodily urges and needs. From the
perspective of Tha?s^? and Allesio^?s punishment we see that they both
undergo the process of retributive justice. Flatterers, due to their abuse
of language wallow in excrement which metaphorically symbolizes the words
they used in flattering others on earth.
In conclusion it can be seen that Dante views fraud as a sin that
separates human beings from God^?s grace and love. Dante presents to his
audience a poem that creates a better understanding of the consequences of
sinful human actions. He bases The Inferno on the teachings found in the
Christian religion and offers to the audience a typological reading that
makes it clear that what will happen to each individual in the after life
will be determined solely by one^?s actions on earth.
Faulie, Wallace A reading of Dante^?s Inferno , The University of Chicago Press,
Alighieri, Dante The Divine Comedy. Inferno, The Norton Anthology, World
Masterpieces. General Ed. Maynard Mack 6th ed. W. W. Norton and Company ,1992.