Inferno By Dante And Punishments

The Comedy, later renamed The Divine Comedy was written by Dante Alighieri of

Florence, Italy. In the early 14th century, while in exile, Dante wrote this
epic poem which is broken down into three books. In each book Dante recounts his
travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven respectively. The first book of The

Divine Comedy, Inferno, is an remarkably brilliant narrative. He narrates his
descent into and observation of hell through its numerous circles and rings. One
extraordinary way Dante depicted hell is in his descriptions of the various
punishments that each group of sinners has received. In a prior college course I
took we learned about medieval torture practices. This knowledge led me to see
similarities in the punishments given in Inferno. The diverse punishments that

Dante envisions all the sinners in hell receiving are broken down into two
types. The first he borrows from many gruesome and severe forms of medieval
torture. The second type is often less physically agonizing. It is Dante’s
creative, very clever forms of punishment. Although all sinners in hell are
souls, Dante gives each one a physical attribute so that the reader can envision
the entire atmosphere clearer. The borrowed medieval forms of torturous
punishments create physical pain for the different sinners in hell, and thus
intended to be interpreted literally. The creative punishments are conceived to
deliver mental and psychological pain to be understood metaphorically. Creative
punishments in many cases can, however, inflict both a mental pain and a
physical pain upon the sinner. Many of the severe punishments that Dante
foresees for the sinners are borrowed from practices of medieval torment and
imprisonment. The medieval dungeons were usually gloomy and dark, and inundated
in disgusting stenches. Dante used this depiction to describe the overall
atmosphere in the inferno. Unbearable and unavoidable extremes of cold or hot
temperature, which are portrayed in the Inferno, are also representative of

Medieval times. Prisoners of Medieval jails were provided with little or no
ventilation to protect them from the extreme cold or hot weather, they could
easily freeze to death or die of heatstroke. Throughout Inferno images of cruel
punishment adopted from the ideas of medieval torture are seen to inflict
physical pain upon the sinners. The eighth circle, called Malebolge, contained
the sinners known as the Flatterers. The sin of flattery was punishable through
torture intending to create physical anguish. As Dante travels over a bridge he
sees that "the ditch beneath/ held people plunged in excrement that seemed/ as
if it had been poured from human privies" (167). The sinners were obviously
condemned to live in "*censored*" because of all the "bull*censored*"
that ran across their tongues while they were living. Dante meets up with a
sinner who informs him of this: "I am plunged here because of flatteries--/ of
which my tongue had such sufficiency" (167). The irony is intentional that the
sinners sit immersed in the crap that originally came from their mouths in the
form of flattery. This punishment is quite vile and repulsive. It is designed to
inflict physical agony upon the sinner. Dante, as a visitor to this place, is
questioned by a sinner, "Why do you stare more greedily at me than at the
others who are filthy?" (167). Although Dante feels depressed for the sinners
he has seen throughout his journey, in this ring among the flatterers he seems
to be nonchalant about meeting them. He is not as moved by their condition as he
is in other rings, maybe because he thinks they deserve this sort of punishment,
however disgusting it may be. Dante, the visitor, leaves the ring having had his
sights fill of it. The second form of punishment Dante uses in Inferno is very
interesting to analyze. These are his metaphorical punishments which are quite
creative and more original than any physical torture. In Canto XX Dante, the
visitor, travels with his companion through the eighth circle where the souls of
the Diviners, Astrologers, and Magicians have been sent to suffer. Dante
describes a procession of "mute and weeping" (179) souls who "found it
necessary to walk backward" (179) because they had their heads turned all the
way behind them. These souls, when living thought they could see the future and
are now damned to only see behind them. This description of these pathetic souls
is an example of one of the psychologically painful punishments invented by

Dante. It is obviously uncomfortable to have one’s head turned backwards, but
the mental anguish is far greater. For Dante who was raised in a religious
background, telling the future was a form of