Essay on The Significance Of The Underworld In Dantes Inferno

In Dante’s Inferno, Dante incorporates Virgil’s depiction of the Underworld from The Aeneid into his poem, and borrows much of Virgil’s language, style, and content. Although the Hell depicted in Dante’s Inferno is essentially grounded in the literary construction of the netherworld found in Virgil’s The Aeneid, in their features, the two realms are quite different. Virgil’s underworld stands largely undifferentiated, and Aeneas walks through it without taking any specific notice of the landscape or the suffering that takes place among the souls.

Aeneas’ first concern is with the fate of his friends, then with meeting his recently deceased father: the ethical and religious implications of sin and death means nothing to him, and there is no moral judgment implied in the fate of the departed. Inferno, on the other hand, there is a systematic differentiation of the landscape, each progressively lower circle of hell implies a deadlier sin. The extremity of punishment given out to the sinners is thus increased as Dante descends, and Dante’s compassion for the dead lessens as he travels downward to the bottom of the abyss.

This, demonstrates the vast differences in each epics’ protagonist as their stories progress: Aeneid displays sympathy to others as he journeys to his fate, gaining a determination to lay the foundations of the Roman Empire, while, by contrast, Dante exhibits bouts of extreme emotional responses that eventually hardened into a hatred for all those stuck in Hell and living sinners alike. Considering the journeys themselves, certain parallels exist. Both Dante and Aeneas are guided within the Underworld: Aeneas led by the Sybil, a mortal woman granted divine abilities by Apollo, Dante by Virgil, the Latin poet’s shade, and thus by nserting Virgil into this epic, Dante acknowledges the imitative nature of his own hellish work.

In each case, the guides are more influential in Hell’s province, than the men they escort. In the Inferno, we frequently observe Dante hiding in fear while Virgil confronts the fiends of Hell to acquire entry into the various regions. Likewise, the Sybil exhibits no fear when consulting with the guardians of the Underworld. When intimidated by Charon for attempting to break the eternal law that no earthly being should pass into the Underworld, she counters, saying: There’s no such treachery here-just calm downno threat of force in our weapons.

The huge guard at the gates can howl for eternity from his cave, terrifying the bloodless shades, Persephone keep her chastity safe at home behind her uncle’s doors. Aeneas of Troy, famous for his devotion, feats of arms, goes down to the deepest shades of hell to see his father. But if this image of devotion cannot move you, here, This bough [… ] (Book VI. 457-465. ) With the promise of sheathed weapons, in The Aeneid, and by the will of the One, in the Inferno, both guides gain the heroes entry into the netherworld.

Upon entering the Underworld, both heroes pass through Limbo, however, Dante’s perception of Limbo is noticeably distinct from Virgil’s. For Virgil, Limbo was the first stop for souls on their way to the Underworld. To continue forward from Limbo, your body needed to be laid to rest, or you paced the coastlines of Cocytus for a hundred years. Dante instead situates honorable pre-Christian-era souls in Limbo, stating that those who “[… ] did not worship God in fitting ways” (Cantos IV. 38. ) or did not receive baptism, were eternally stuck, and consequently, constraining those of the Christian era into either Heaven or Hell.

The authority of the church is evidently present in Dante’s telling. If a person doesn’t have faith in God as portrayed by the Church, he is deemed a sinner and his soul is compelled to go to Hell. Conversely, Virgil had no holy discriminations, and, as a result, the placement of shades in his Underworld stood blind to all belief systems. Additionally, Virgil told of punishments being impermanent in the after-life. Virgil and the Roman society judged that no one behaved impeccably throughout life; no one was short of sin. Every soul that crossed to the Underworld had to pay dues for their sins in life.

On the other hand, Dante’s Hell is far more vindictive. If a person has not repented for their sins in life, his soul is put in Hell, doomed to suffer for all of time without the prospect of ever breaking free. This concept of eternal anguish is unique to Dante’s Hell, and the Christian beliefs it exemplifies. In Virgil’s Underworld, the souls, “[… ] once they have turned the wheel of time/for a thousand years: God calls them forth to the Lethe, / [… ] their memories blank [… ]/and begin to long to return to bodies yet again. ” (Book VI. 865-869. Virgil’s colleagues believed that souls were re-embodied, so whatever suffering was withstood in Hell, it would last a maximum of a thousand years and then they would be reborn into the world. The afflictions endured by offenders in Virgil’s Underworld are quite vague. He does lend some indication of the punishments sustained: “Some trundle enormous boulders, others dangle, racked/to the breaking point on the spokes of rolling wheels. ” (Book VI. 712-713. ) For Virgil, the precise nature of a hopeless soul’s suffering is unimportant; the mere existence of that torment suffices to make Hell an undesirable situation.

Dante utilizes the idea of physical suffering one step further by describing the concept of Contrapasso-suffering based on the sin committed: an eye for an eye, if you will. This is undoubtedly a crueler fate for souls who committed ghastlier sins in the mind of the poet, Dante. For example, sins of the body, of animalistic desire, are low on Dante’s list of deadly sins as he put the Lustful within an eternal wind storm, to be forever swept off their feet in the Second Circle of Hell.

With the Inferno, he tries to deter people from committing more heinous crimes against God, like thievery r murder, since their punishment will be more severe. Additionally, contrapasso fits well with Dante’s separation and classification of sins: If a sin is extreme, its punishment is worse. Furthermore, the retribution is specifically pointed towards the individual’s characteristics that are sinful. Looking at the Underworld’s whole configuration, we see differences between Virgil and Dante’s depictions. Both suggest that the Underworld has a precise logical construction, where souls are divided up based on their morally significant actions while alive.

Virgil separates the good (Elysium), evil (Tartarus), and ethically neutral people (Limbo), defining that there are no firm boundaries for souls within each of these vast categories. Dante retains a similar organization, disposing sinners, along with moral neutrals, as they did not side with God, in Hell and keeping virtuous people separate, in Heaven. Dante’s Hell, however, is more well-defined, with land barriers separating the various circles. This absolute partition of sinners in Hell is a result of the spiritual beliefs of Dante’s time.

A dominant social power during the Middle Ages, the Christian Church had a sterner viewpoint on the afterlife than the Roman society of Virgil’s time. An individual’s hopelessness to escape his doom in Hell made acting in sin more unfavorable. This understanding was not lost on the Church, which exploited it as a way to frighten the devoted into acting morally, as in some cases, like in the Inferno, their soul could be thrown into Hell prematurely. While on their travels, both Aeneas and Dante meet contemporaries, with whom they converse, as well as famous historical figures.

Aeneas, upon visiting Queen Dido, asks how she died and tries to explain why he left. Dante expands on Virgil’s notion of questioning the dead to understand what brought them to their present condition. Encountering Fra Alberigo, a Jovial Friar, in the Ninth Circle of Hell, Dante asks “[… ] are you already dead? ” (Cantos 34. 121. ) In response, the Jovial Friar says: [… ] I have no knowledge of my body’s fate within the world above. For Ptolomea has this privilege: quite frequently the soul falls here before it has been thrust away by Atropos. ” (Cantos 34. 22-126. )

Thus asserting that certain sins will cause a hasty removal of one’s soul to Hell and leave your body in the hands of a demon “until its years have run their course completely [… ]” (Cantos 34. 132. ) insinuating the demon is you, in body, until the body has been worn down into its demise. Therefore, giving more power to the Church to intimidate the faithful into ethical actions by implying some sinners’ souls may leave before their death. During this scene, a marked change in Dante occurs, an emotional difference that transforms his opinion of the sinners.