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Dante's Inferno

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“The highest levels of performance come to people who are centered, intuitive, creative, and reflective - people who know to see a problem as an opportunity” (Deepak Chopra). This quote by Deepak Chopra relates to Dante because Dante wrote the Inferno reflecting on his own life, while contemplating suicide. His suicide could have been a problem; instead, he turned it into an opportunity to write something reflective of his life. Dante used the ideas and contemplation of his life to write about a man’s journey through hell, much like the hell he must have been going through in his mind. The Inferno has considerable creative and innovative thoughts because Dante creates new ideas for hell that were never thought of before and brings those ideas to life. This creation of a unique underworld shows the wild thinking Dante has. This adds to the work as a whole because it is made up of completely new concepts to very popular and widely believed ideas. Dante creates contrapassos and a structure for hell that are new to him and right for his epic poem. Each one of these components, the contrapassos and structure, in the epic relates to the overall message which is that actions and sins always have a fitting punishment. The Inferno focuses on Dante’s journey through hell, the people he meets, and the contrapassos in each circle. Dante’s creativeness in making his ideas come to life makes readers intrigued because of the untamed nature involved. Creating a new story and world about a place widely known but not known much about is something that intrigues readers; by Dante adding a living man to hell and adding a man going through hell Dante created yet another interesting element. Dante’s groundbreaking ideas in the Inferno deal with hell, the people in it, the punishment for those sins, and the journey Dante is on; these ideas prove that actions always have just punishments.

Dante’s ideas of hell presented in the Inferno are primarily made up in his mind. Some of the characters in hell were known before he wrote the book; however, he used these characters in ways not expected by readers. These new ideas first shown by Dante are what make the Inferno a unique text. Lucifer, one of the most important people in the text of the Inferno is a character known by many, or all, before the text was written. The difference between the well known demon and his representation in the book is Dante’s spin on him. Dante took one of the most well known religious figures and did not conform to what everyone else believed him to be. “The emperor of the realm of grief protruded/ From mid-breast up above the surrounding ice./ A giant’s height, and mine, would have provided/ Closer comparison than would the size/ Of his arm and a giant.. If he was truly once as beautiful/ As he is ugly now” (XXXIV. 31-35, 37). Dante placed Lucifer in ice, most likely to contrast it with the fire that is tied to hell. The most well known character that is connected to hell full of fire is now trapped in ice. Dante also uses symbols for Lucifer: “How great a marvel it was/ For me to see three faces on his head:/ In front there was a red one;/.. That on the right appeared to be a shade/ Of whitish yellow; the third has such a mien/ As those who come from where the Nile descends” (XXXIV.40-42,45-46). Giving Lucifer three faces increases the monster like image of him. Dante giving him different colored heads also creates three separate perceptions of the demon. The image of three also connects to the trinity, a parody on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “The teeth of each mouth held a sinner.. ‘That soul,’ my master said, ‘who suffers most,/ Is Judas Iscariot; head locked inside,/ He flails his legs. Of the other two, who twist/.. Of Brutus: writhing, but not a word will he scream;/ Cassius is the sinewy one on the other side” (XXXIV.61-63,65-66). Each of the mouths of Satan chewing the most notorious sinners shows the extent that Dante thought these men sinned. Dante being from Italy would connect to the ancient Romans, therefore seeing Brutus and Cassius as two of the worst sinners. However, to those who are not Roman, or hated Rome, would not consider these men to be that grave of sinners. This scene is another example of Dante’s creativeness while writing the text. “I have never seen at sea so broad a sail-/ Unfeathered, bat-like, and issuing three winds/ That went forth as he beat them, to freeze the whole/ Realm of Cocytus that surrounded him” (XXXIV. 50-53). Lucifer also uses his wings to freeze over the level of hell he is stuck in, his wings are so large the wind they create can freeze the whole circle. This is one of the many twists Dante for characters, many times he takes a well known person either in real life or from literature and uses them in a way not many would expect. This unique character in the Inferno and the creativeness Dante added to him connects to the main message of the text because it deals with Lucifer’s actions and the fitting punishment for those actions. Lucifer was the first angel to turn against God, he created his own devilish world and convinced many other angels to go with him. Being the first sinner in history it is fitting that Lucifer is the most punished being in hell. The contrapasso for his actions is have huge wings that freeze over the circle of hell he is in, which consequently freezes himself and is stuck in the same place for eternity. This punishment is fit for his actions because similar to how his wings seal himself in the ice, he went against God and sealed his fate in hell.

The structure of Dante’s hell is original to Dante; he created a world that is one of a kind. There are levels and inner circles in hell that Dante created for Dante the pilgrim to go through on his journey. He created each circle to represent a sin, with each inner circle representing different types of actions for the overhead sin. The uniqueness Dante holds in his hell is that the severeness of sins is not what readers would expect. Violence, killing yourself and others, is above fraud which to a 21st century readers would not be expected since murder is so severe. However, Dante felt that violence was committing an act against others, and committing acts against yourself was a worse sin to enact. The contrapassos in this book deal with the saying an “eye for an eye”. Each sin a person has committed on Earth is paralleled with a just punishment that fits their sin. For those who kill themselves their punishment was becoming a tree: “A little in front of me and twisted off/ One shoot of a mighty thornbush- and it moaned,/ ‘Why do you break me?’..Darker with blood, it began again and mourned,/ ‘Why have you torn me? Have you no pity, then? Once we were men, now we are stumps of wood’” (XIII.30-35). Having created a just punishment for those who kill themselves Dante was connecting the person to the tree. Both are living

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