Essay: Dante Alighieri – Dante's Inferno

The Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, takes the audience on a journey through the stories of hell, purgatory, and heaven in Dante’s Inferno. Starting in hell, Dante tells the story of his journey and his experiences, under the guidance of the classical Roman poet Virgil, as he travels through the nine circles of hell to reach heaven. Through his very detailed descriptions of punishments, settings and characters, the poem serves an allegorical purpose by showing one man’s desperate journey from confusion and depression to salvation. An allegory is a story with both a literal and symbolic meaning. Dante uses an allegory in Canto I and he describes his internal struggle through the dark forest which represents his mid-life crisis.
Canto I’s allegory has several symbols of Christian beliefs which help in his efforts to creatively warn readers about the consequences of the sins of humankind. Canto I begins with Dante waking up in a dark forest, midway through the course of his life. This is shown when it reads, ‘In the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood, astray/Gone from the path direct” (I. 2-3). Having strayed from the right, virtuous path of life, Dante finds himself in a dark place of confusion and possible sin. Dante does not make it clear whether this forest is a real, earthly place or a more allegorical and symbolic forest. The description of the forest as gloomy further demonstrates his dark place. ‘That forest, how robust and rough its growth, / Which to remember only my dismay/ Renews, in bitterness not far from death’ (I. 5-7). Dante then sees a mountain with the sun shining above it. The sight makes him feel more comfortable so he attempts to climb the mountain. But as he begins his climb, a leopard leaps in front of him, forcing him to turn back. Dante still hopes that he can climb the mountain, encouraged by the bright rays of the sun. But then a terrifying lion comes into his path, followed by a fierce wolf. These three animals represent three kinds of sin, lack of self-control, violence, and fraudulence and deception. As a result, Dante turns around and stops climbing the mountain. Dante writes an allegory in Canto I showing many religious symbols.
Dante faces an internal struggle during his journey through the dark forest. The dark forest represents his midlife crisis. He has reached this point in his life where he does not know what to do with himself. He is confused, depressed, and believes that he has strayed from the right road on how to live his life. Later on in the epic poem, Dante gets banished from Italy and he depicts Virgil, the classical Roman poet, who was sent by Beatrice, the girl that Dante loves who is an angel in heaven. Virgil resided in Limbo which was one of the levels of the afterlife, according to Dante. People in Limbo had no chance of going to heaven or hell, so they just wait eternally in suspense hoping they will get out of there. Virgil was in Limbo because he had beliefs of a pagan but Dante admired him and his writing, so he did not put him in hell for being a pagan. Dante’s internal struggle has to do with the right way to live life during his midlife crisis and getting over his confusion and depression.
Usually society sees Satan as active and full of energy, roaming around the world tempting people. He often has great fun tormenting sinners, while being surrounded by flames. People often picture him as attractive, a proud rebel, one who has refused to spend his life serving God, and many have identified with him. Even those who have portrayed him in a way that emphasizes his evil nature have portrayed him as powerful and dangerous. But nobody pictures Satan the same way Dante does. Dante depicts Satan as almost completely passive. Dante shows Satan being stuck in the ice in the depths of Hell, and his only actions are to flap his wings, and thus freeze the ice in which he’s stuck, to gnaw on the sinners in his three mouths, and to weep tears and blood. Dante describes Satan as huge, and at first Dante cannot help but be terrified of him, but his size is the only reminder of his stature when he was Lucifer and the fairest angel in Heaven. Dante depicts him as horribly ugly with his three faces of different colors. His former beauty was of course given to him by his Creator, so the mention of that beauty makes it appalling that he could have rebelled against God, who made him out of nothing and made him so beautiful. And Dante sees that he should not fear him, since he has no real power. He cannot even stop Dante and Virgil from escaping from Hell by climbing down his body to the center of the earth and then turning around and climbing up. The last sight Dante and Virgil have of him is grotesque, comic, and pathetic just two helpless hairy legs waving upside down from a hole. It may seem like a romantic rebellion to refuse to serve God, but it leaves one trapped in the ego. Fundamental religious beliefs of different cultures and religions in today’s society, such as repentance for sin and being rewarded with salvation in the afterlife and the decisions one makes and the sins one commit will decide his or her fate in the afterlife, are similar to what Dante believed. However, he went into detail of different levels of sin and hell. For example, he puts fraud as the worst sin at the lowest level of hell and saints have a straight path to heaven and do not have to go through purgatory first. Dante’s image of Satan shows how different Satan is viewed by society and how Dante views him. Also, his beliefs and beliefs of today’s society are compared throughout the poem as well.
Dante’s Inferno by Dante Alighieri shows Dante’s midlife crisis as an allegorical journey through a dark forest in Canto I and his internal struggle during his journey through the dark forest and his climb up the mountain. He also shows differences of how today’s society views Satan and how he viewed Satan. Dante’s Inferno shows accurately how it feels to go through a midlife crisis and his work still speaks to readers today for approximately 800 years for good reason. Dante beautifully describes the struggles of life and how one can question what he or she has done with their life through the allegory he writes in Canto I.

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