We are all born in this world expected to always do good. Those who choose to commit sins are condemned to go to hell. It is a man’s decision to do good and enter God’s Kingdom or do bad and be punished in hell.
The Divine Comedy
Dante’s Inferno exposes us all on how God punishes sinners. Dante clearly states that hell exists to punish sin and the suitability of hell’s specific punishments testifies to the divine perfection that all sin violates. Does this mean that man is not left with any other choices? Can a man still use his free will or his lifetime on earth is limited to follow a divine plan to avoid being thrown in hell?
Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself in dark woods, the right road lost. (I.1).
These famous lines, narrated by Dante, open Inferno and immediately establish the allegorical plane on which the story’s meaning unfolds. The use of such potent words as “journey” and “right road” signifies the religious aspect of Dante’s impending adventure and quickly notifies us that we are leaving the realm of the literal. Likewise, the image of being lost in “dark woods” sets up a clear dichotomy between the unenlightened ignorance involved in a lack of faith in God and the clear radiance provided by God’s love. The simple contrast between the “dark woods,” which embody Dante’s fear, and the “right road,” which embodies Dante’s confidence in God, makes his challenge clear—he sets out to look for God in a sinful world. His reference to “our life” contributes to the allegorical level of Inferno: the journey upon which Dante is embarking is not solely his but rather that of every human being. He describes his journey in only the vaguest of terms, with no mention of where he is coming from or where he is heading, because he believes that this journey is one that every individual undertakes so as to understand his or her sins and find his or her peace with God.
Dante creates an imaginative correspondence between a soul’s sin on Earth and the punishment he or she receives in Hell. The Sullen choke on mud, the Wrathful attack one another, the Gluttonous are forced to eat excrement, and so on. This simple idea provides
many of Inferno’s moments of spectacular imagery and symbolic power, but also serves to
illuminate one of Dante’s major themes: the perfection of God’s justice. The inscription over the gates of Hell in Canto III explicitly states that God was moved to create Hell by Justice (III.7). Hell exists to punish sin, and the suitability of Hell’s specific punishments testifies to the divine perfection that all sin violates.
This notion of the suitability of God’s punishments figures significantly in Dante’s larger moral messages and structures Dante’s Hell. To modern readers, the torments Dante and Virgil behold may seem shockingly harsh: homosexuals must endure an eternity of walking on hot sand; those who charge interest on loans sit beneath a rain of fire. However, when we view the poem as a whole, it becomes clear that the guiding principle of these punishments is one of balance. Sinners suffer punishment to a degree befitting the gravity of their sin, in a manner matching that sin’s nature. The design of the poem serves to reinforce this correspondence: in its plot it progresses from minor sins to major ones (a matter of degree); and in the geographical structure it posits, the various regions of Hell correspond to types of sin (a matter of kind). Because this notion of balance informs all of God’s chosen punishments, His justice emerges as rigidly objective, mechanical, and impersonal; there are no extenuating circumstances in Hell, and punishment becomes a matter of nearly scientific formula.
Early in Inferno, Dante builds a great deal of tension between the objective impersonality of God’s justice and the character Dante’s human sympathy for the souls that he sees around him. As the story progresses, however, the character becomes less and less inclined toward pity, and repeated comments by Virgil encourage this development. Thus, the text asserts the infinite wisdom of divine justice: sinners receive punishment in perfect proportion to their sin; to pity their suffering is to demonstrate a lack of understanding.
In many ways, Dante’s Inferno can be seen as a kind of imaginative taxonomy of human evil, the various types of which Dante classifies, isolates, explores, and judges. At times we may question its organizing principle, wondering why, for example, a sin punished in the Eighth Circle of Hell, such as accepting a bribe, should be considered worse than a sin punished in the Sixth Circle of Hell, such as murder. To understand this organization, one must realize that Dante’s narration follows strict doctrinal Christian values. His moral system prioritizes not human happiness or harmony on Earth but rather God’s will in Heaven. Dante thus considers violence less evil than fraud: of these two sins, fraud constitutes the greater opposition to God’s will. God wills that we treat each other with the love he extends to us as individuals; while violence acts against this love, fraud constitutes a perversion of it. A fraudulent person affects care and love while perpetrating sin against it. Yet, while Inferno implies these moral arguments, it generally engages in little discussion of them. In the end, it declares that evil is evil simply because it contradicts God’s will, and God’s will does not need further justification. Dante’s exploration of evil probes neither the causes of evil, nor the psychology of evil, nor the earthly consequences of bad behavior. Inferno is not a philosophical text; its intention is not to think critically about evil but rather to teach and reinforce the relevant Christian doctrines.
One example from the novel shows a man and a woman who decided to be captured by sin.
. . . One day, for pleasure, We read of Lancelot, by love constrained: Alone, suspecting nothing, at our leisure.. . .And so was he who wrote it; that day we read. . . No further. . . .(V.112)
Francesca speaks these lines in Canto V when she tells Dante the story of her love
affair with Paolo, her husband’s brother, for which they are now both condemned to the tempest of the Second Circle of Hell (V.112–124). Francesca describes how she and Paolo, who had fallen secretly in love, read to one another from a story about Lancelot and Guinevere, who also shared an illicit love (Guinevere was King Arthur’s wife). Feeling that their own story was reflected in the story of the Arthurian lovers, Paolo and Francesca were overcome with emotion, and when they read about Lancelot and Guinevere’s first kiss, Paolo kissed Francesca; Francesca’s husband, spying on the lovers, had them killed before they had the opportunity to repent and seek God’s forgiveness.
This passage, in addition to being one of the most famous in Inferno, is one of the most moving. Dante heightens the tragic quality of the romance between Paolo and Francesca with his mastery of the style of romantic love poetry—one of the many modes that he assumes in Inferno. These lines also imply the power of literature to excite the emotions, a power that Dante hoped to harness. Perhaps most important, they offer a sympathetic story to explain the suffering of these souls in Hell, allowing the reader to share Dante’s compassion for them. As the poem progresses, the stories told by the damned souls grow less and less sympathetic, compelling the reader to share Dante’s growing abhorrence of sin and underscoring the poem’s theme that sin is not to be pitied.
People who commit sins against their spouses are often given the choice. To do it or not to do it. Even if God’s will dictates that we follow his commandments and avoid suffering in hell, man are still left with choices. Our free will dictates that we still make our own choices. It also implies that when we do make our choices, we must be willing to endure the consequences. It does not mean that man’s free will is limited. When follow God’s will and do good, we can avoid hell. No one wants to suffer in hell. If we do good, we feel happy and it makes other people happy.
Alighieri, D. (2003). The Divine Comedy. New York: Penguin Group.