Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, originally published in 1304, is regarded by many as being the greatest and most influential piece of Christian literature ever written. However, while the veneration of the Divine Comedy transcends nation and religion, Dante’s reasoning, structure, and placement of hell, purgatory, and Paradise, have given rise to much confusion over the years. As an author and artist, Dante was required to be extremely in touch with his personal beliefs, biases, and experiences, lending an explanation as to why, especially in the Inferno, Dante arranges Hell and its circles in the way he does.
As opposed to remembering that the Hell we see in the Divine Comedy is simply Dante’s interpretation of Hell, altered and crafted with his personal beliefs at the forefront of his mind, many have accepted the Inferno as the undisputed structure of hell.
While this may be the case for many, with twenty years of life experiences, as well as the strong influence of 2016’s American society shaping my opinions, I challenge Dante’s structure of Hell, Limbo and the circle of the treacherous aside, the two least condemning sins should be gluttony and hypocrisy, and the two worst sins should be being a false prophet and violence.
In the Inferno, Dante places those marked by the sin of gluttony in the third circle of Hell, after the virtuous pagans and the lustfult In this circle, the gluttonous are eternally plagued by a cold and filthy rain, rendering them incapable of ever finding true comfort and contentment.
Such a punishment was chosen in accordance with the principle woven throughout the entire poem that sin is its own punishment.
Those who are gluttonous are, in their lives on Earth, continuously searching for something to satisfy themselves, are unable to stop at a point of simple enjoyment, and proceed to love and indulge excessively. Gluttons are marked by a love of excess, most commonly an excessive love of food and drink. While food and drink are not to be thought of as anything but good gifts from the Lord, it is imperative to allow oneself to enjoy these gifts, but not superfluously. In this ordered manner, ones mind will be fixated on praising God for His good gifts, as opposed to praising and loving the gifts themselves. Thus, Dante’s choice of a torrential downpour affirms the notion that sin is one’s own punishment by disabling the gluttonous from ever finding the contentment they seek, and exposing them to the manifestation of perpetual excess, seven hundred and twelve years have passed since the Divine Comedy’s original publication, and, expectedly, society’s moral compass and the severity it places on certain sins have shifted drastically due to humanity’s natural progression towards liberalism.
Therefore, the discrepancy between Dante’s perceived severity of gluttony and mine is most likely due to the fact that time has passed. For example, in 1304, there was not near the surplus of food and drink that America boasts today Excessively indulging in 1304’s smaller supply of food and drink was much more detrimental than excessively indulging would be in 2016. Thus, it would be logical for Dante in 1304 to provide a more severe punishment and a lower circle of Hell for those who wasted what could not have been an expansive food supply. Furthermore, several of the sins Dante deemed as lesser sins were sins that were hurtful to not only one’s soul, but others as well. I believe this placement is disordered Dante chooses to place gluttons in the third circle of hell, indicating gluttony as a sin more severe than lust.
Gluttony is a love of excess and eternal comfort-seeking, and, while detrimental to oneself, gluttony very rarely, if ever, poses consequences for any individuals other than the glutton themself. On the contrary, the consequences of lust wreak havoc on marriages, families, and the lives and development of children, Lust is a natural human inclination, but a disordered love of others proves much more disadvantageous and more hazardous to those surrounding them than a disordered love of food and drink proves to be. Therefore, the harm of oneself only should be punished less severely than the harm of oneself and others the circle of gluttony should be the second circle and the least condemning sin, following the virtuous pagans.
After Limbo and the circle of the gluttonous, hypocrites should populate the fourth circle of hell; this is in harmony with the hypothesis that sins that harm oneself are less severe than those that harm oneself as well as others. In the Inferno, Dante places the hypocrites in the sixth trench of the circle of the fraudulent. Dante acknowledges sins of fraud to be some of the worst one can commit, and while I agree with this, I believe hypocrisy should be separated out, as not all sins of fraud have comparable degrees of sinfulness necessary to place them all in the same circlet In the sixth trench of the eight circles, or the circle of the fraudulent, hypocrites aimlessly trudge around their trench wearing, “cloaks with cowls so low they fell before their eyes these cloaks were gilded and they dazzled; but inside they were all of lead, so heavy that Frederick’s capers were straw compared to them”.
Hypocrites’ lives are marked by claiming to hold themselves to a high standard of moral virtue and preaching this to others, as well as chastising those who do not hold themselves to the same standard. However, while hypocrites speak much of their righteousness, in private they partake in the same or worse activities and sinfulness that those they denounce partake in. Thus, Dante’s punishment for those who practice hypocrisy is fitting. Hypocrites claim to be unparalleled in their righteousness, while inside they are wicked, and the juxtaposition of their inward and outward selves weighs heavily on them. Their cloaks are astounding on the exterior, as are hypocrites’ Virtuous facades, but their interior is made of lead, encumbering them with the burden of their own fallaciousness. Thus, Dante thereby exhibits another instance in which sin is one’s own punishment, and hypocrites must endure carrying the burden of living a double life for all of eternity.
As aforementioned, while Dante situates all sins of fraud in the eighth circle together, hypocrisy is in no way as immoral as a fraudulent sin such as thievery or flattery and thus deserves to be situated not only out of the eighth circle, but into the third, after gluttony and the virtuous pagans. This is due to the fact that, like gluttony, hypocrisy only harms oneself, and this is demonstrated perfectly in the punishment Dante chooses for them The weight of the lead cloaks is a burden hypocrites must bear in Hell, and had to bear mentally during their lives on earth. Dante defines sins of fraud as the intentional abusing of God’s good gift of reason and using it for evil purposes.
While this holds true for the remaining sins of fraud, this definition is porous when applied to the sin of hypocrisy. While hypocrites are guilty of doing this excessively and abrasively so, proclaiming to hold oneself to a high moral standard is something all human beings do, in an effort to strive to improve one’s moral standards Likewise, claiming that one’s moral standard is high is, for some, essentially a form of accountability. Furthermore, attempting to hold others to a high moral standard can do nothing but improve their moral standards, or, at the very least, hold them accountable. Additionally, in alignment with the logic used in assigning gluttony, the only harm the sin of hypocrisy causes is to weigh down the person committing the sin Hypocrisy is often never even exposed to other individuals, deeming it purely a sin that harms oneself and oneself only.
Therefore, hypocrisy, although classified as a sin of fraud, is less sinful than the sins with which it is classified, and should be placed in the third circle, following gluttony 0n the opposite end of the spectrum, the circle of treachery aside, there are two sins which are much more severe than Dante deemed them to be, and the first of these is sins of violence. In the Inferno, Dante separates this seventh circle into three descending rings: those who have committed violence against a neighbor in a ring on the outside, the middle ring is occupied by those who committed violence against themselves, and the final circle is for those who committed violence against God (blasphemy), nature (sodomy), or art (usury). The punishment for each of these sins is different the outer, or, violence against another ring, is characterized by a boiling river of blood, in which those charged with this punishment are residing in, up to a level that is commensurate with their sin. The middle ring for those who were violent against themselves by killing themselves, or squandering away the possessions which allowed them to live a flourishing life, are punished in separate ways.
The suicides are eternally transformed into thorny bushes and trees, always torn at by ferocious dogs, and this serves as a metaphor: when one feels forced to commit violence against oneself, it is due to the fact that they feel it is the only way to relieve themselves of the pain they feel, The squanderers are eternally chased the ferocious dogs through this thorny forest. Lastly, the final circle is made up of an expansive desert of flaming sand, upon which the blasphemers lay, the usurers sit, and the sodomites walk about in groups. In the Inferno, Dante deposits the violent in the circle of hell proceeding the fraudulent, but they should be placed after the sins of fraud, as sins of violent are more consequential. Dante views sins of fraud as the worst sins one can commit because Dante places great importance on God’s gift of reason, and defines fraud of the intentional using of His gift of reason for evil pursuits.
However, while this is terrible, committing sins of violence is worse because the damages that one who is violent can cause to both themselves, as well as others, are more harmful than the damages that could be caused by committing sins of fraud For example, a fraudulent person cunningly gains the trust of another, and exploits it for his or her own gain, as the expense of the one who trusted them. These sins are typically committed in order to gain power or honor, and those who are generally remain physically unharmed with their friends and families sparedr However, in the case of violence, the victim is always physically harmed, and often killed, which poses disastrous consequences for the friends and families of the victims. Especially in the case of suicide, the repercussions that ensue after one takes their own life are monumental, and the aftershocks remain long after the person is gone. Lastly, one of the most important reasons why the sins of violence are more severe than those of fraud, is due to the fact that sins of fraud cannot be committed against God, as He is omniscient, and cannot be tricked.
However, as in the case of blasphemy, one can undoubtedly be violent towards God, which is unarguably more serious than any sin committed against oneself or another individual. Therefore, violence is more sinful and should be lower in hell than fraud due to the fact the damages inflicted are more harmful when violence is committed, and one cannot be fraudulent toward God, but one can be violent towards Himt Continuing toward the bottom of Hell, disregarding the sins of treachery, the sinners who should occupy the eighth circle are those who in the Inferno, occupy the fourth trench of the seventh circle, or the circle of fraud, which are the sorcerers and false prophets. These sinners are charged with attempting to see into the future by forbidden means, or, more simply, trying to cheat their way into becoming more like God, and professing their ability to predict things that only God can know.
These sinners are sentenced to have their heads twisted around on their bodies, causing them to walk backwards, and inducing so much pain that these sinners cry so many tears they are unable to see. This punishment corresponds with the deed because sorcerers and false prophets attempted to see what was prohibited, and now they cannot see at all. The Inferno’s punishments are crafted in a way that aligns with the principle that sin is its own punishment, but the punishment assigned for these sinners is contrary to the usual pattern of Dante, which is to essentially give sinners over to their sin. In this trench of the fraudulent, these individuals are subject to the opposite of what they seek, which could easily be deemed one of the worst punishments. As in the case of hypocrisy, the degree of sinfulness of those accused of being false prophets and sorcerers is not equivalent to the sinfulness of the other fraudulent sins.
However, while hypocrisy was much milder than Dante condemned, sorcery and false prophesying are much worse. The sorcerers and false prophets should be removed from the circle of the fraudulent, and be placed only before the circle of the treacherous, as it is more sinful than others in its classification. There are two reasons for this proposed rearrangement: first, these sinners are attempting to be and do what only God can be and can do, and second, they are also often found guilty of misleading those to who they preach their supposed prophecies to, often leading to schismatics. The future is concealed in God and only God‘s mind, and attempting to attain this information, or pretending to have attained it, is equating oneself with God, which should be heavily condemning. Also, many who claim to see the future can mislead others by deceiving them into thinking that these prophecies are real, thereby lessening the magnificence of God, and leading their victims away from the truth. Therefore, apart from the treacherous, the sorcerers and false prophets are the most sinful, as the consequences of their sins affect not only themselves, as all sin does, but also others, and more specifically, other souls.
Therefore, if I was to rearrange hell, the gluttonous and the hypocritical would be the second and third circles respectively, and the first, second, and third from the bottom of Hell would be the false prophets and sorcerers, the violent, and the fraudulent. As a notable politician, Dante allowed his political views to often cloud his judgment when assigning the severity of sins and their commensurate places in Hell. Thus, American society today would often widely disagree on the gravity of each sin, as a result of the immense changes that have taken place since its publication Nevertheless, Dante’s Divine Comedy has solidified its importance through the years, and serves as a reminder for introspection and self-accountability, as well encourages readers that good things will eventually happen to good people, and justice will be served.