Sample Scholarship Essays

Dante’s Inferno

Dante’s use of allegory in the Inferno greatly varies from Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” in purpose, symbolism, characters and mentors, and in attitude toward the world. An analysis of each of these elements in both allegories will provide an interesting comparison. Dante uses allegory to relate the sinner’s punishment to his sin, while Plato uses allegory to discuss ignorance and knowledge. Dante’s Inferno describes the descent through Hell from the upper level of the opportunists to the most evil, the treacherous, on the lowest level. His allegorical poem describes a hierarchy of evil. Conversely, Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” describes the ascent from ignorance to knowledge, as one prisoner is freed to make his way up towards the opening of the cave and experiences sunlight, the unavoidable truth.
Symbolism is an essential element of both works. In Plato’s allegory symbols are used to represent truth, ignorance, society and the fear of change. Truth is represented by the sun, while ignorance is represented by the cave, its limited vision and darkness within. The prisoners represent ignorant members of society who are content to believe that what they see is all that exists. Fear of change is represented by the prisoners angry reaction towards the freed, enlightened prisoner. Dante’s Inferno is a detailed description of sin and its relationship to degrees of punishment. As stated in the text, “…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.” This quote describes the punishment for fortunetellers. In life the fortunetellers foresaw the future. In death they are doomed to exist with their heads on backwards and their eyes overflowing with tears so that not only could they not see what was happening in front of them, but they could not see at all due to these copious amounts of tears. Similarly, each sin had its own logical punishment, and each group of sinners received the same punishment, with only a few exceptions. Such an exception can be found in Canto XXlll when Caiaphas lies crucified on the floor while the other hypocrites walk around him in circles. He is set apart because he counseled Roman to crucify Jesus. While the sinners represent man’s imperfections, Virgil symbolizes human reason. Throughout the poem, Virgil uses logic and reason to convince the monsters to allow him to gain passage to the various circles of Hell. The use of characters and mentors is distinct in each piece.
“The Allegory of the Cave” presents few characters, and except for the one prisoner who ascends from the cave, none are distinguished from the others. The one freed prisoner attempts to become a mentor to the others but fails. As he tries to enlighten the remaining prisoners he is received with anger and threats. Nothing is learned about the characters as individuals. They remain nameless, faceless images. In contrast, there are numerous characters in the Inferno. The sinners are arranged in a hierarchy. In each group of sinners, Dante distinguishes a few characters. Virgil acts as Dante’s mentor and guide, leading him through the intricate levels of Hell. Although Virgil is Dante’s mentor, Dante, himself, acts as a mentor for some of the souls in Hell. He informs them as to what is happening in the land of the living. The sinners also function as mentors by telling Dante about themselves, their sins and about Hell. In the following passage Dante asks Farinata to tell him about Tegghiacio: “… still let me urge you on to speak a little further and instruct me: Farinata and Tegghiacio, men of good blood….”
While the cave dwellers in the “Allegory of the Cave” have no interest beyond what they see, the sinners have experienced life outside of Hell, and are curious about it. Plato and Dante criticize the world from different perspectives. Plato criticizes the world from a sociological point of view, while Dante criticizes it from a religious perspective. Plato implies that members of society are myopic in their views. They do not want what they have come to know and believe, to be proven false. They believe that what they see is all that there is to reality. They hold on to their beliefs, as if with chains, and react with anger if their belief system is threatened. This concept is demonstrated in the “Allegory of the Cave” where it states: “What do you think he would say if someone told him that what he had formerly seen was meaningless illusion”. In Dante’s Inferno, Dante specifically criticizes believers of Judaism and Islam. Dante criticizes these religions because of his loyalty to Christianity. An example of his contempt towards Islam is when Dante meets Mohammed and gruesomely describes him: “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.
In essence, while each author uses allegory to deliver his message, the elements of purpose, descent/ascent, characters and mentors, and views of the world are separate and distinct in each piece. Plato’s purpose is to discuss human ignorance, while Dante is exploring human sins. Plato’s characters are nameless and faceless, while Dante’s are individually described. Finally, Plato perspective is sociological, while Dante’s is religious.

Dantes Inferno

DanteS Inferno Brian Bozarth Bozarth 1 Mrs. Thurmond English IV 6 December 6, 2000 Dantes Inferno Dante Aleghieri was born in Florence Italy in 1265. In his life he composed many great works of literature, but two stood out among the rest: La Vita Nuova and The Comedy. La Vita Nuova is a collection of his sonnets, love poems, and lyrics. The Comedy is an epic poem broken down into three different parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paridisio; Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. The first section is the Inferno (Hell), in which Dante is sent to observe since he cannot ascend the Mountain of Virtue. He could not go up The Mountain of Virtue because three beasts stood in his way: the leopard of malice and fraud, the lion of violence and ambition, and the she wolf of incontinence (Ciardi 27).

Dante cannot ascend the mountain because they are the sins he cannot conquer without the help of God. Guided by his friend and fellow poet Virgil, they travel throughout the various pouches and circles of Hell. The Inferno is a landmark in the development in European language and literature, for it stands as one of the greatest poems of all time. Its poetic beauty and the views and themes it encompasses is virtually unmatched by any other medieval poem. In reading The Inferno one notices three major themes.

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First there is the eternal justice of God, in which Dante gives each sinner his due by paying or perfecting the sins they committed in life; the Bozarth 2 punishment always fits the crime. Secondly we see the eternal glory of Rome as the head of separate but equal bodies of church and state; Jesus Christ and Julius Caesar (spark notes). Last is the eternal danger of politics, which brought many if not most of the sinners to Dantes hell (spark notes).in 1302 Dante was exiled by the leaders of the Black Guelphs, the political faction in power at the time. We see many of these people in Dantes Inferno. One could say Dante got the ultimate revenge.

The journey of Dante through hell, in both its structure and content symbolizes the nature of sin and punishment (Chuck IIIs College Resources). Dante uses the punishment of sins to show the eternal justice of God. There are two types of punishments Dante gives the sinners in The Inferno. The first type he borrows from various gruesome and cruel forms of medieval torture and the second type is Dantes creative and imaginative punishments for sins. The borrowed torturous forms of punishment create physical and bodily pain for the sinner and designed to be interpreted literally; where the creative punishments are used to cause mental and psychological pain and meant to be understood as a metaphor.

It is also possible for creative punishment to cause mental and physical pain to the sinner (Digital Dante). Some of the punishment Dante gives his sinners is borrowed from medieval torture and imprisonment. Medieval prisons were often dark dank disease ridden rooms that smelled like urine, body odder, and rotten flesh, in which naked or ragged men were chained to the walls or floors (Digital Dante). Dante used this dark dank feeling to describe the overall atmosphere in The Inferno. Bozarth 3 The first cruel punishment is the one for heresy.

The medieval punishment for heresy usually was public humiliation followed by a burning at the stake (Ciardi 95). For Dante the heretic was someone who believed what they wanted to and not be the doctrine of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Dante punished the heretics by being ensepulchered (put in tomb) and to have them heated (Ciardi 95). This was similar to having them imprisoned and burned. Since heretics did not believe in life after death they were ironically burned alive in a tomb for all eternity.

Now they know what it is to die eternally: O lofty power who through these impious gyres lead me around as you see fit, I said, I want to know, I want to understand: the people buried there in sepulchers, can they be seen? I mean since all the lids are off the tomb and no one stands guard. And he: They will forever be looked up, They will return here from Jehosephat With the bodies they have left up in the world. The private cemetery on this side Serves Epicurus and his followers, Bozarth 4 Who make the soul die when the body dies (Musa 81). This is a more physical punishment to be translated literally. One of the most disgusting punishment is the inferno is the one of the flatterers. As Dante and Virgil are walking across a bridge, Dante looks down and sees the flatterers plunged in excrement.

Keep in mind that this is meant to be more physical than mental: Steaming from the pit, a vapour rose Over the banks, crusting them with a slime That sickened my eyes and hammered my nose. That chasm sinks so deep we could not sight Its bottom anywhere until we climbed Along the rock arch to its greatest height. Once there, I peered down; and I saw long lines Of people in a river of excrement That seemed the overflow of the worlds latrines (Ciardi 161). The irony here is, since in life the sinner spewed excrement from his mouth to flatter people while he was alive, he will have to lie in excrement for all eternity. This was a known practice in medieval torture (Digital Dante). Bozarth 5 Simonists are ones who use their power in the church to acquire money and wealth (Ciardi 166).

There are two descriptions of punishment of simonists. The first one is described by the author John Robinson as: a man would be chained down to a bare bed with his feet hanging off the edge, and then his feet would be burned by red hot charcoals. The second is to be buried head down in the sand alive with the sinners feet exposed to the air: those soles of every sinners feet, and then the legs up to the calf the rest stuffed inside (Musa 154). Its like a reverse baptismal. When a baby is born it is dipped head first in the water; feet exposed to the air. In the same way Dante shows this reverse baptismal after death.

In the sixth bolgia of the eighth circle of hell we see the hypocrites (Ciardi 195). For being a hypocrite in Dantes hell one would be made to wear a lead cape. This punishment Dante borrows from the court of Emperor Fredrick II. Fredrick was well known for his lead capes. Dantes capes were brightly colored and gleaming on the outside while lead underneath.

Fredrick used his capes to punish treason in much the same way Dante used the capes to punish hypocrisy. The cloaks are a metaphor for the hypocrite characters; they are not what they seem to be. These examples of punishment are all physically agonizing. Dante borrowed all of these from medieval forms of punishment. These punishments were meant by Dante to be interpreted literally.

On the other hand there are Dantes creative punishments are to be taken metaphorically. It is possible for the more creative punishments to inflict mental and physical pain. Bozarth 6 One of Dantes more creative punishments is the one for the lustful. The lustful are members of the sinners if incontinence, are doomed to spend all eternity swirling in a violent tempest (Ciardi 61). Although they are subject to physical discomfort, the real punishment is psychological. Since these sinners were not able to control their desire in life or internal control, they are now condemned to a lack of external control forever. This is the difference between the more literal and metaphorical punishments.

One last example of Dantes punishments is the punishment for the fortune tellers. In Canto XX Dante describes a procession of mute and weeping bodies who had their heads on backwards; they had to walk backwards to be able to see in front of them (Ciardi 174). In Dantes time fortunetellers were considered the lowest class of people, they were considered blasphemers and heretics. They were doomed to mourn in a procession walking backward forever. To claim to be able to see the future Dante made it so they wanted to see in front of them they have to walk backwards and if they want to walk forward they have to look behind them. Although less painful, it is very psychologically damaging.

Through these types of punishments we can see how truly horrible hell is. Dante always come up with a punishment to coincide perfectly with the sin; the punishment always fits the crime, thus illustrating the eternal justice of God. Whether the punishments were to be interpreted literally or nor all are truly and equally agonizing. The inferno is truly one of the greatest works of literary art. It Bozarth 7 deals with one of the greatest questions of humanity: the existence of an after life and the consequences of sin on earth.

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