Dante's Inferno Cantos V-VII
The Message in Cantos V-VII
Dante struggled in life with desires of lust, wealth, and ambition. His book, known as La Divina Commedia, seems to represent his vision of the sins of man on earth and his struggle to overcome his own short comings. It can be said that it is an allegory or story symbolic of Dante’s own life and struggles. Also known as The Inferno of Dante, Dante is introduced into the circle of Hell by Beatrice, who stands for his courtly love, or divine love. It is interesting that he chose Beatrice, a woman that he may have only met twice in his life, but loved and respected, to lead him on his path or spiritual quest. It suggests that divine love is the goal and answer to Dante’s quest.
Cantos V-VII best describes Dante's definition of divine love and what is not divine love.
In Canto V, Dante encounters Minos, the judge at Hell’s gate. It is Minos who decides the fate of all souls. It seems that Minos judges with great apathy as we are told that he listens to the sins and flicks the souls with his tail to the layer of Hell that they belong in.
“It comes before him, and confesses all; Minos, great connoisseur of sin, discerns
for every spirit its proper place in Hell,” (Inferno V, lines 8-9)
Minos is told by Virgil, Dante’s guide, not to interfere with Dante’s destiny. This suggests that it is intentional that Dante must go through the lowest of Hell to find the spiritual awakening that he seeks.
We find the lustful swirling around in the wind in the second circle of Hell.
“Floundering on the wind’s rough buffetings,
upward or downward, driven here and there” (Inferno V, lines 36-38).
The punishment of swirling can be compared to the helplessness they had in controlling their lust on earth. Francesca, Paolo, Dido, Helen, and Cleopatra are all mentioned by name or by act in this Canto as being in this circle. These people are all guilty of lustful, sexual behavior. Some speak to Dante and tell of their tales and seem to ask for pity at their plight, but do not seem to repent. It is interesting that Dido and Cleopatra killed themselves because of love, but they are put in this circle instead of circle seven where other suicides are cast. At the end of Canto V, we hear the thoughts of Dante:
Francesca talks about her love for her husband’s younger brother, Paolo. She compares it to the love of Lancelot and Guinevere. Dante almost faints as he is reminded of his love for Beatrice, while he is in an arranged marriage himself.
“Swooning as in death, I felt like a dying body” (Inferno V, line 117).
This could be seen as a beginning of a rebirth for Dante, or forgiveness for his own transgressions.
Love for another person is closer to the divine love; however their love is misguided for persons they cannot have.
In Canto VI, we find the gluttonous in circle three. It is guarded by Cerberus, a three headed dog that is quieted by throwing chunks of mud in his mouth.
“Enormous hail and tainted water mixed with snow are showered” (Inferno VI 8-9).
We are told of a cold and smelly torturous place. Cerberus;
“claws the horde of spirits, he flays and quarters them in the rain.” (Inferno VI 16-17).
Dante tells of the gluttons laying around in the cold mud or mire, like pigs, to symbolize the life style they had on earth. Dante speaks with Ciacco, who tells Dante of his sin of gluttony and asks Dante to speak of him when he returns to Florentine. Ciacco is thought to be a nickname for hog or pig in Florentine dialect. Ciacco also tells of the fate of
“Farinata, Mosca, Tegghiaio, men of good reason,
Jacopo Rusticucci, Arrigo” (Inferno VI 9-11),
all men that Dante knew of, that are in a deeper part of hell, for pride or envy or greed.
It is easy to see why these transgressions would be a greater punishment, as they are all parts of the deadly sins but they would all be devoid of divine love. Their misdirected love was for a thing, and the thing was food. They are put in the circle above the greedy as food, in moderation is necessary in life.
At the end of Canto VI, Dante asks Virgil about judgment day, if the punishment these souls now endure will change. Virgil answers,
“A creature is perfect, the more it perceives the good
And likewise, pain. The accursed people here
can never come to true perfection.” (Inferno VI 98-100).
This tells us two things: that Dante believed in the same teachings of that of the Summa, and that divine love is salvation, and that these people have no chance of redemption. Their fate is sealed in Hell. Dante is telling us that God put us above the animals by giving us free will, but that our choices reject God and the manner in which they do, determines our punishment. These beliefs are similar to that of Thomas Aquinas,
In Canto VII, we find the spendthrifts and misers in circle four. Plutus, known as the god of riches, guards this circle. Their punishment is to roll stones against the walls and each other, which can symbolize the abuse they gave material goods in life:
“Each pushes a weight against his chest, and howls
at his opponent each time that they clash:
“Why do you squander?” and “Why do you hoard?” (Inferno VII 25-27).
This behavior is continuous. Virgil comments that
“How all the gold there is beneath the moon,
or that there ever was, could not relieve
one of these weary souls.” Inferno VII 58-60). What a profound lesson for today’s world. How many of us grew up hearing the statement that “you can’t take it with you” and that money is surely the root of all evil. They spent their lives worshiping material goods, instead of God.
Their journey continues in this Canto, and they find themselves at the river Styx. Virgil tells Dante,
“These are the souls whom anger overcame,” (Inferno VII 101).
Dante watches as people fight and hit with all parts of their bodies. Punishment for anger is an eternal place of fighting. The sullen lay beneath the river’s surface, suggesting that they are hidden just as they hid their feelings during life.
Dante uses a lot of symbolism in his punishment for crimes. His symbols or punishments seem to point to the old testament of “an eye for an eye.” Dante’s justice is defined as cause and effect or divine justice. It is further defined as the sinners have chosen this path for themselves by their sins.
Even though Dante was a Christian, the forgiving Christ-like virtues are not shown in this story. This shows of his own inability to forgive himself, although he is making this journey to find divine love and salvation at the end. We are told that he must journey through all of Hell to reach Heaven, on the other side. As a child, many of us are told that when we die, our entire life flashes before us, good and bad. We might speculate that Dante wrote this poem to mirror his own life and to reflect on the sins of man and of himself. He wrote to teach us that to obey God, and to love in the divine sense, is our hope of salvation.
“Thus hope springs anew with the growth and the knowledge and the understanding of the light on the way, and that life indeed is an eternal expression of the love of the Father; and that as it gives the expression through the individuality of each and every soul as it comes in material manifestation by the weaknesses, we find the strength in the Lord--and in the glories ever in His beauteous purpose with each soul; that purpose that ye might be the companions, one with Him.” Edgar Cayce 1504-1
© 2013 Rebecca Shepherd Thomas