Punishment Should Fit the Crime

Dante Alighieri, in his epic poem The Inferno from the Divine Comedy, stipulated that punishment should fit the crime. He describes hell as a place where sinners are being punished and is composed of different levels. The levels group sinners accordingly with the weight of their sin or their crime, with the first being the uppermost level of hell and the lower level a person goes, the more violent the crime committed was and the heavier the punishment is. Dante described hell as having nine circles.

The first circle includes those, though not sinful, who did not accept Christ. Included also were those who lived before Christ and did not pay fitting homage to their respective deity. The souls who reside here, although not really being punished, are forever separated from God. Those overcome by lust are punished in the second circle wherein they are blown about by a violent storm without hope of rest. The third circle holds those who were overcame by the sin of gluttony where they continuously feed on a vile slush made of freezing rain, black snow, and hail.

The avaricious, those who sqaundered and hoarded possessions, are punished in the fourth circle by continually pushing a great weight against each other. Those who committed the sin of wrath and sloth are punished in the fifth circle wherein the wrathful continually fight each other and the slothful lie gurgling eneath the river Styx. The heretics, trapped in flaming tombs, are punished in sixth circle. The seventh circle is composed of three rings: the outer, middle and inner.

The outer ring holds those who committed violence against others and are immensed, accordingly to a level commensurate with the violence committed, in a river of boiling blood. Those who committed suicide resides in the middle ring and were transformed into gnarled, thorny bushes of trees and continually torn by Harpies. Blasphemers—those who committed violence against God, sodomites—those who committed violence against nature, and usurers—those who committed violence against the arts reside in the desert of flaming sand with fiery flakes raining from the sky in the inner ring.

Those punished in the eight circle includes panderers an seducers who march eternally being led by demons through whipping; the flaterrers who are steeped in human excrement; the simonious who were placed in holes head first with the soles of their feet set with fire; sorcerers and false prophets with their heads twisted backwards; the barrators immersed in a lake of boiling pitch; hypocrites listlessly walking along wearing gold-gilded lead cloaks; theives pursued and bitten by snakes; fraudulnt advisors encased in flames; sowers of discords being hacked by a sword-weilding demon; and other falsifiers afflicted with different types of diseases.

Finally, traitors of different sorts are being punished in the ninth circle. In here, Judas, who betrayed Christ, is punished by eternally being chewed by Lucifer himself, who had betrayed God, and is being eternally imprisoned by being immersed in ice from the waist downwards. Different crimes deserve different punishments. Dante described each punishment in correspondence with the crimes committed. Sinners suffer punishments to a degree beffitting the gravity of their sins. His presentation of Hell symbolizes the perfection of God’s justice.

God, Himself, created Hell out of justice—thus written in the gates of Hell: “Justice incited my sublime Creator” (Canto III). Punishment is a powerful deterrent for sin. Indeed, punishments must suit the sin. Otherwise, there would be nothing that stops sinners from committing the more violent ones. Should those who commit theivery be punished the same as those who committed murder? In Dante’s Hell, only those who have sinned but did not repent are being punished. Those who seek absolution are being punished in purgatory—again presenting us with the Divine Justice.


Alighieri, Dante. The divine comedy: The Inferno. Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.