Cultural Foundations 2
26 February 2018
In Inferno, Dante, accompanied by Virgil, travels through the nine circles of hell. From the start of the first canto, Dante is lost and afraid, with only Virgil’s guidance aiding him. According to Virgil, Dante’s “soul is sunken in… cowardice” (Dante Canto 2). Virgil has been sent to alleviate this issue. They embark on their journey through hell and with each circle, Dante witnesses progressively worse torture being inflicted on the sinners. The most prominent difference between the two writers is their compassion. Dante is very sympathetic towards the sinners residing in hell, while Virgil will go so far as to scold him for doing so. The souls in hell were judged and placed there by God, so why pity them at all? Although Virgil attempts to curb Dante from pitying the sinners, the two are both unable to entirely keep from doing so. Their reactions reveal a rift between the morals of our heroes and God himself.
Dante’s first stop in hell is the first circle, or limbo. This is the nicest part of hell, and where Virgil resides. He is actually sympathetic towards the fellow souls in this realm, for they are his equals. Virgil and his comrades in the first circle could not control their salvation as they were born prior to the coming of Christ or without being baptized. Even though this is the best that hell can get, Dante is deeply saddened by what he sees. He laments, “I thought how many worthy souls there were suspended in that Limbo, and a weight closed on my heart for what the noblest suffer” (Dante Canto 4). He struggles to understand the predetermined doom that befalls the souls in limbo.
Virgil leads Dante into the second circle, for the lustful. His curiosity and sympathetic nature has not diminished on this visit. He is in awe over the minotaur, and when he comes across the whirlwind of doomed lustful souls, he calls out to them in sorrow. Francesca de Rimini approaches him and proceeds to tell him her tragic story of adultery and eventual death. After her story, he tells her, “Francesca, what you suffer here melts me to tears of pity and of pain” (Dante Canto V). This is Dante’s first strong feeling of pity in the journey. Her story is so romantic, Dante and the Ghost beside her faint. Dante has not yet been exposed to the rest of the sinners of hell, garnering one of the strongest reactions to the many sad tales that await him. With his descent into a more torturous part of hell, Dante grows even more disturbed by the torture these souls endure.
The third circle of hell is where the gluttons go. Cerberus, a glutton himself, guards over the filthy third circle. The pair come across a Florentine named Ciacco. Saddened and horrified by the pain Ciacco endures in the third circle, he says, “your agony weighs on my heart and calls my soul to tears” (Dante Canto 6). Dante can’t help but empathize with the damned. Most of the people residing there aren’t morally...