According to the document (below the question) What is symbolic...

According to the document (below the question)

What is symbolic retribution? How does it work in Dante's Inferno? Give many specific examples, with quotes (citing the book number) from the text. (this is an essay question, so I hope you can answer as long as you can)


The Story of Inferno

  • We will only be reading a few selections from the Inferno. Here's the story:
  • It's just before dawn on Good Friday, A.D. 1300. [Do you see the symbolism already? What's Good Friday? The day Jesus was crucified, so the darkest day of the year. What's just before dawn? The darkest time of the day.]
  • Dante is not only the author, but the protagonist of this story.
  • Dante awakens to find himself in the Dark Wood of Error. [This represents worldliness: loving money, which was something that Christians thought was wicked for most of Christianity, until capitalism changed all that.]
  • Dante encounters the poet Virgil who volunteers to be his guide through Hell and then Purgatory. [Where do we know Virgil from? He was the author of the Aeneid. Now he and Dante are both characters in The Divine Comedy! Virgil represents human reason, which is why he can only be the guide through Hell and Purgatory.]
  • It will take another guide, Beatrice to lead Dante to the final ascent to God. [Beatrice, who was Dante's love interest in real life, represents Divine Love].
  • In Inferno, Dante and Virgil enter Hell, and see, carved in stone: "ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE."
  • Virgil leads him down through the earth to the different levels of Hell, which get more severe the further they descend. [As you read, it may be interesting to note the hierarchy of sins that Dante establishes. Which sins are worse than others and why?]
  • Dante realizes that sinners are punished according to the law of symbolic retribution: each punishment symbolizes the specific sin. [As you read, see if you can figure out the symbolism behind each punishment--how the punishment symbolizes the sin. For instance, the thieves have their hands wrapped behind their bodies by snakes. This symbolizes the idea that because they misused their hands to steal, they won't have them for all of eternity. Snakes also represent thieves: they sneak into your home to cause mischief.]
  • It's also interesting to note use vs. misuse. In this hell, people are there because there because they misused something. Everyone in hell is an individual with a name, rather than a group of people. The symbolism is that we're condemned by our own choices in life.
  • The bottom level of hell is in the center of the Earth. Here Dante witnesses Satan and the very worst of sinners with him. [It may be interesting to think if the sin being punished there is the one that you think is worst.]
  • Dante and Virgil emerge from Hell just before sunrise on Easter. [Symbolically, this is a time of new hope and light.]

Selections from Dante's Inferno

Canto 4: Limbo, The Virtuous Pagans

"So [Virgil] entered and so he led me in

to the first circle and ledge of the abyss.

No tortured wailing rose to greet us here

but sounds of sighing rose from every side,

sending a tremor through the timeless air,

a grief breathed out of untormented sadness,

the passive state of those who dwelled apart,

men, women and children: a dim and endless congress.

And the Master said to me: You do not question

what souls these are that suffer here before you?

I wish you to know before you travel on

that these were sinless. And still their merits fail,

for they lacked Baptism's grace, which is the door

of the true faith you were born to. Their birth fell

before the age of the Christian mysteries,

and so they did not worship God's Trinity

in fullest duty. I am one of these.

For such defects are we lost, though spared the first

and suffering Hell in one affliction only:

that without hope we live on in desire" (Inferno 4:23-42).

[Here Dante sees such Old Testament figures as Abel, Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, philosophers like Thales, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as great poets such as Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan, who welcome Dante to their group by proclaiming him, "Prince of Poets" (Inferno 4:55-92)].

Canto 5: Circle Two, The Carnal

"I came to a place stripped bare of every light

and roaring on the naked dark like seas

wracked by a war of winds. Their hellish flight

of storm and counterstorm through time foregone,

sweeps the souls of the damned before its charge. . . .

And this, I learned, was the never-ending flight

of those who sinned in the flesh, the carnal and the lusty

who betrayed reason in their appetite.

As the wings of wintering starlings bear them on

in their great wheeling flights, just so the blast

wherries these evil souls through time foregone.

Here, there, up, down, they whirl and whirling, strain

with never a hope of hope to comfort them,

not of release, but even of less pain" (Inferno 5:28-32, 37-45).

[Virgil and Dante see Dido who "killed herself for love" (Inferno 5:61-62), as well as Paris and Helen (Inferno 5:64, 66).]

Canto 6: Circle Three, The Gluttons

"I am in the Third Circle of the torments.

Here to all time with neither pause nor change

the frozen rain of Hell descends in torrents.

Huge hailstorms, dirty water, and black snow

pour from the dismal air to putrefy

the putrid slush that waits for them below.

Here monstrous Cerberus, the ravening beast,

howls through his triple throats like a mad dog

over the spirits sunk in that foul paste.

His eyes are red, his beard is greased with phlegm,

his belly is swollen, and his hands are claws

to rip the wretches and flay and mangle them.

And they, too, howl like dogs in the freezing storm,

turning and turning from it as if they thought

one naked side could keep the other warm" (Inferno 6:7-21).

[Dante sees a man from his hometown of Florence, who tells him, "Your citizens named me Ciacco, The Hog: gluttony was my offense, and for it I lie here rotting like a swollen log" (Inferno 6:49-51).]

Canto 7: Circle Four, The Wrathful

Virgil said: "'My son, behold the souls

of those who lived in wrath. And do you see

the broken surfaces of those water-holes

on every hand, boiling as if in pain?

There are souls beneath that water. Fixed in slime

They speak their piece, end it, and start again'" (Inferno 7:115-120).

Cantos 9-11: Circle Six, The Heretics

Canto 12: Circle Seven, The Violent Against Neighbors (Murderers)

"But turn your eyes to the valley; there we shall find

the river of boiling blood in which are steeped

all who struck down their fellow men" (Inferno 12:46-48).

[Dante sees figures like Alexander the Great and Attila the Hun here, as well as local robber-barons of the 1200s (Inferno 12:107, 135, 137)]. 

Canto 13: Circle Seven, The Violent Against Themselves (Suicides)

Virgil tells Dante: "When

out of the flesh from which it tore itself,

the violent spirit comes to punishment,

Minos assigns it to the seventh shelf.

It falls into the wood, and landing there,

wherever fortune flings it, it strikes root,

and there it sprouts, lusty as any tare,

shoots up a sapling, and becomes a tree.

The Harpies [monstrous creatures with the heads of women and the bodies of birds], feeding on its leaves then give it pain and pain's outlet simultaneously.

Like the rest, we shall go for our husks on Judgment Day,

but not that we may wear them, for it is not just

that a man be given what he throws away.

Here shall we drag them and in this mournful glade

our bodies will dangle to the end of time

each on the thorns of its tormented shade" (Inferno 13:93-108).

Cantos 14-17: Circle Seven, The Blasphemers, Sodomites, and Usurers

"We came to a plain whose soil repels all roots. . . .

We paused at its edge: the ground was burning sand. . . .

Enormous herds of naked souls I saw,

lamenting till their eyes were burned of tears. . . .

And over all that sand on which they lay

or crouched or roamed, great flakes of flame fell slowly

as now falls in the Alps on a windless day" (Inferno 14:8, 11, 16-17).

Canto 14: The Blasphemers (Cursers of God)

[Seeing the blasphemer, Capaneus, Virgil] spoke with such vehemence

as I had not heard from him in all of Hell:

'O Capaneus, by your insolence

you are made to suffer as much fire inside

as falls upon you. Only your own rage

could be fit torment for your sullen pride.'

Then he turned to me more gently. . . 

'Living, he scorned God, and among the dead

he scorns him yet. He thinks he may detest

God's power too easily, but as I told him,

His slobber is a fit badge for his breast'" (Inferno 14:25-27, 58-69).

Canto 15: The Sodomites (Gays)

[Among the sodomites, Dante meets a dearly loved friend and writer (who influenced Dante's own writing) named Ser Brunetto Latino. He uses the more respectful "voi" form of "you" instead of the less respectful "tu" form, something which Dante uses only for one other sinner in all of Hell. Dante pays him the highest tribute he pays anyone in the Inferno].

"I answered: 'Ser Brunetto, are you here?'

'O my son! May it not displease you,' he cried,

if Brunetto Latino leave his company and turn and walk a little by your side.'

And I to him: 'With all my soul I ask it.

Or let us sit together, if it please him

who is my Guide and leads me through this pit.'

'My son!' he said, 'whoever of this train

pauses a moment must lie a hundred years

forbidden to brush off the burning rain. . . .

Follow your star, for if in all

of the sweet life I saw one truth shine clearly,

you cannot miss your glorious arrival.

And had I lived to do what I meant to do,

I would have cheered and seconded your work,

observing Heaven so well disposed toward you'. . . .

'Ah, had I all my wish,' I answered then,

'You would not be banished from the world

in which you were a radiance among men,

for that sweet image, gentle and paternal,

you were to me in the world when hour by hour

you taught me how man makes himself eternal,

lives in my mind, and now strikes to my heart;

and while I live, the gratitude I owe it

will speak to men out of my life and art'" (Inferno 15:30-39, 55-60, 79-87).

Canto 17: The Userers (Lenders of Money at High Interest Rates)

"[I] came to the sad people of the ledge.

Their eyes burst with their grief; their smoking hands

jerked about their bodies, warding off

now the flames and now the burning sands. . . .

I observed that from each neck there hung

an enormous purse, each marked with its own beast

and its own colors like a coat of arms.

On these their streaming eyes appeared to feast. . . .

[One said:] 'What are you doing in this pit of sorrow?

Leave us alone! And since you have not yet died,

I'll have you know my neighbor Vitaliano

has a place reserved for him here at my side'" (Inferno 17:42-45, 51-54, 60-64).

Canto 18: Circle Eight, The Flatterers

"Once there, I peered down; and I saw long lines

of people in a river of excrement

that seemed the overflow of the world's latrines" (Inferno 18:113-114).

Canto 19: Circle Eight, The Simoniacs (Sellers of Church Favors/Offices)

The Simoniacs are each placed upside-down in a mock baptismal font:

"I saw along the walls and on the ground

long rows of holes cut in the livid stone. . . .

From every mouth a sinner's legs stuck out

as far as the calf. The soles were all ablaze

and the joints of the legs quivered and writhed about. . . .

As oiled things blaze upon the surface only,

So did they burn from the heels to the points of their toes" (Inferno 19:13-27).

[Dante sees Pope Nicholas III and other corrupt church leaders here.]

Canto 20: Circle Eight, The Fortune Tellers and Diviners

"And when I looked down from their faces, I saw

that each of them was hideously distorted

between the top of the chest and the lines of the jaw;

for the face was reversed on the neck, and they came on

backwards, staring backwards at their loins,

for to look before them was forbidden. . . .

I saw the image of our humanity

distorted so that the tears that burst from their eyes

ran down the cleft of their buttocks" (Inferno 20:10-15, 22-24).

Canto 21: Circle Eight, The Grafters (Have Sticky Fingers for the Money of Others)

"I saw the pitch; but I saw nothing in it

except the enormous bubbles of its boiling. . . .

Down plunged the sinner and sank to reappear

with his backside arched and his face and both his feet

glued to the pitch, almost as if in prayer.

But the Demons [said]: . . . 'take your look

and then get down into the pitch. And stay below

unless you want a taste of a grappling hook'" (Inferno 21:19-20, 46-48, 52-54).

Canto 23: Circle Eight, The Hypocrites

"About us now in the depth of the pit we found

a painted people, weary and defeated.

Slowly, in pain, they paced it round and round.

All wore cloaks cut to so ample a size

as those worn by the Benedictines of Cluny.

The enormous hoods were drawn over their eyes.

The outside is all dazzle, golden and fair;

the inside lead, so heavy that Frederick's capes [a man who had molten lead poured over him]

compared to these would seem light as air.

O weary mantle for eternity!" (Inferno 23:55-64).

[Here Dante also sees Caiphas (the Jewish high priest who condemned Jesus), who was crucified by three great stakes to the floor of Hell where every passing sinner walks upon him (Inferno 24:107-117)]. 

Canto 24: Circle Eight, The Thieves

"So we moved down the bridge to the stone pier

that shores the end of the arch on the eighth bank,

and there I saw the chasm's depths made clear;

and there great coils of serpents met my sight,

so hideous a mass that even now

the memory makes my blood run cold with fright. . . .

Amid that swarm, naked and without hope,

people ran terrified, not even dreaming

of a hole to hide in or of a heliotrope.

Their hands were bound behind by coils of serpents

which thrust their heads and tails between the loins

and bunched in front, a mass of knotted torments. 

One of the damned came racing round a boulder,

and as he passed us, a great snake shot up

and bit him where the neck joins with the shoulder.

No mortal pen, however fast it flash

over the page, could write down o or i

as quickly as he flamed and fell in ash;

and when he was dissolved into a heap

upon the ground, the dust rose of itself

and immediately resumed its former shape" (Inferno 24:79-84, 91-105). 

[Dante sees Vanni Fucci, who in 1293, stole a treasure for which others were punished (Inferno 24:124-139).]

Canto 26-27: Circle Eight, The Evil Counselors

Canto 28: Circle Eight, The Sowers of Discord

These are hacked and torn by a great demon with a bloody sword through all eternity. Dante sees Muhammad here with his internal organs dangling between his legs:

"Between his legs all of his red guts hung

With the heart, the lungs, the liver, the gall bladder,

And the shriveled sac that passes shit to the bung" (Inferno 28:25-28).

Dante also sees Muhammad's son-in-law Ali, who has been chopped from the top of his head through to his chin.

Canto 29-30: Circle Eight, The Falsifiers

"All of its lay brethren might have been

in sight but for the murk; from those dead

such shrieks and strangled agonies shrilled through me

like shafts, and barbed with pity, that my hands

flew to my ears. . . . And through the screams,

putrid flesh spread up its sickening stench" (Inferno 29:41-51).

Canto 32: Circle Nine, Treacherous to Kin/Country

Canto 33: Circle Nine, Treacherous to Country, Guests/Hosts

Canto 34: Circle Nine, Satan and the Treacherous to Masters

"On march the banners of the King of Hell,

my Master said. Toward us. Look straight ahead:

can you make him out at the core of the frozen shell?

Like a whirling windmill seen afar at twilight,

or when a mist has risen from the ground,

just such an engine rose upon my sight

stirring up such a wild and bitter wind

I cowered for shelter at my Master's back,

there being no other windbreak I could find.

I stood now where the souls of the last class

(with fear my verses tell it) were covered wholly:

They shone below the ice like straws in glass.

Some lie stretched out; others are fixed in place

upright, some on their heads, some on their

soles; another like a bow, bends foot to face.

Where we had gone so far across the ice

that it pleased my Guide to show me the foul creature

which once had worn the grace of Paradise,

he made me stop, and, stepping aside, he said:

Now see the face of Dis! This is the place

where you must arm your soul against all dread.

Do not ask, Reader, how my blood ran cold

and my voice choked up with fear. I cannot write it;

this is a terror that cannot be told.

I did not die, and yet I lost life's breath:

imagine for yourself what I became,

deprived at once of both my life and death.

The Emperor of the Universe of Pain

jutted his upper chest above the ice. . . .

If he was once as beautiful as now

he is hideous, and still turned on his Maker,

well may be the source of every woe!

With what a sense of awe I saw his head

towering above me! For it had three faces:

one was in front, and it was fiery red,

the other two as weirdly wonderful,

merged with it from the middle of each shoulder

to the point where all converged at the top of the skull . . .

Under each head two wings rose terribly,

their span proportioned to so gross a bird:

I never saw such sails upon a sea.

They were not feathers—their texture and their form

were like a bat's wings—and he beat them so

that three winds blew from him in one great storm:

it is these winds that freeze all Cocytus [the final pit of Hell].

He wept from his six eyes, and down three chins

the tears ran mixed with bloody froth and pus.

In every mouth he worked a broken sinner

between his rake-like teeth. Thus he kept three

in eternal pain at his eternal dinner.

For the one in front the biting seemed to play

no part at all compared to the ripping: at times

the whole skin of his back was flayed away.

That soul that suffers most, explained the Guide,

is Judas Iscariot, he who kicks his legs

on the fiery chin and has his head inside.

Of the other two, who have their heads thrust forward,

the one who dangles down from the black face

is Brutus: note how he writhes without a word.

And there, with the huge and sinewy arms, is the soul

of Cassius. But the night is coming on

and we must go, for we have seen the whole.

Then, as he bade, I clasped his neck, and he,

watching for a moment when the wings

were opened wide, reached over dexterously

and seized the shaggy coat of the king demon;

then grappling matted hair and frozen crusts

from one tuft to another, clambered down.

When we reached the joint where the great thigh

merges into the swelling of the haunch,

my Guide and Master, straining terribly,

turned his head to where his feet had been

and began to grip the hair as if he were climbing;

so that I thought we moved toward Hell again. . . .

I looked up, thinking to see Lucifer

as I had left him, and I saw instead

his legs projecting high into the air. . . .

Get up. On your feet, my Master said.

The sun already mounts to the middle tierce [7:30am Sunday morning],

and a long road and hard climbing lie ahead . . . .

And he [said] to me: You imagine you are still

on the other side of the center where I grasped

the shaggy flank of the Great Worm of Evil

which bores through the world; you were while I climbed down

but when I turned myself about, you passed

the point to which all gravities are drawn.

You are under the other hemisphere where you stand;

the sky above us is the half opposed

to that which canopies the dry land. . . .

He first, I second, without thought of rest,

we climbed the dark until we reached the point

where a round opening brought in sight the blest

and beauteous shining of the Heavenly cars.

And we walked out once more beneath the stars" (Inferno 34:1-143).

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