A theme is a pervasive idea presented in a literary piece. Themes in Inferno, a masterpiece of Alighieri Dante, are related to moral as well as religious. Some of the major themes in Inferno have been analyzed below. The translation of Allen Mandelbaum has been used for this analysis.
Themes in Inferno
Punishment of Sins
Dante has beautifully allegorized his version of Hell. Sinners face the justice of God and receive punishment for the sins they commit in this world. This is an elaborate punishment system based on the types of sins. For example, Virgil and Dante see many people in different circles according to the gravity of the sin. The punishment for each type of sinners is different. The punishment for different sins seems harsher than it should have been in the Roman ethical framework. Even it is very interesting to note that Virgil and Homer too are placed in Limbo or the first circle even though Virgil guides Dante to Hell. In fact, it seems at various points that Dante has painted a Christian picture of Hell rejecting all other religious concepts.
Love is another theme of Inferno. Dante argued that the nature of God is pure and perfect love. Divine Love was responsible for the creation of heavenly bodies and their regular mobility in the universe. It sheds light on the fact that God loves His creatures, the reason for this creation and love transforms Dante. Canto two shows Beatrice coming to help Dante because she loved him. In fact, it is Dante’s pure love with Beatrice made St. Lucia turn his attention to Beatrice. It shows that it is God’s nature that is a source of love and makes it a requirement that there should be a hell. It is also that a person with immoral behavior will blame love when they get involved in the sin. Hence there are two types of love.
The human condition is defined by logic where Virgil is a symbol of that human rationality. That is why Dante showed sinners as complex persons having complicated personalities with a fatal flaw of the body that has put them in Hell. Dante tried to prove that sins are wrong choices; they had made when they were alive. This human condition has been brought to light with the fact that humans are prone to live in a society such as Dante’s focus on life in Florence. Dante’s own condition of needing guidance also reflects human condition and intervention of the Divine power for this guidance.
Use of Language
Language shapes human reason and rational thinking. Most of the sinners shown in different circles of the Hell do not use logical language and prefer their passions to rule their language. They are incoherent most of the times. Sinners have also explained the reasons for their being there in that circle in which they have been placed as a punishment. Dante points out his limitation of language when he says that his pen staggers with it when capturing the truth that prevails in Hell. Moreover, various people tell their stories to Dante in different ways. That is why he feels and informs the readers not to ask the details, for sometimes language limits man’s ability to explain through words.
Dante’s concept of Hell is a metaphorical presentation and also realistic. It has boundaries, physical environment, gate, walls, and dimensions. It has been divided into sections to show the sinners according to the categories of their sins. Whatever Dante sees through his mind’s eyes, he puts into words to explain the physical environment as well as the physicality of the sinners. They are being torn apart, made to go through agonizing pain, bear physical torture and deformed and twisted and turned. The graphic details of such anguish and mental suffering also is part of this physical description. The main objective is to evoke reaction among his readers about Hell to make them avoid sinful life.
Self-presentation is shown as a forceful figure as Dante experienced the life hereafter in Hell. However, as a human being, Dante seems to be subject to the same fear of a common man. Through this address, he showed that like a common man sometimes it becomes highly challenging. This mixed presentation of Dante as an authority and Dante as a common man with limitation is also a theme of this epic.
Storytelling and Immortality
Dante’s Inferno affirms the man’s desire to achieve immortality can also be achieved by storytelling. That is why he has inserted various characters who asks him to remember their stories and share them with the people upon his return. However, he has ignored various characters as he seems to have his own objective of writing it. This objective appears to highlight the truthfulness of the Catholic Christianity and punishments awarded to the sinners. Dante also acts in consideration of his own sinful life to allow his soul to be satisfied/ He wants to experience redemption by writing a story of the people who have committed extreme blunders. He declares these act as sins which are fatal and worthy of strict punishments.
Taxonomy of Evil
Dante sheds light on the self-devised taxonomy of evil or sins. He explores the nature of sin, and isolates sinners based on the severity of sin, explores the nature of sin. He further shows Divine force awarding punishments for that sin. For example, bribery is considered worse than murder. Hence, murderers are in the sixth circle of Hell while bribery has been placed in the eighth circle. It is the realization of the Christian values that Dante has prioritized this ethical system. It also combines with God’s creation and will to punish or reward.
Dante is a protagonist, a narrator, and a poet. The poetry spills into narration from the very first Canto when Dante meets Virgil, his mentor. The reference to Virgil and other epics shows that Dante is aware of his aptitude as a poet as his questions about his capacity or ability and the limitations of language. The lack makes him slightly unsure when he tries his best to provide a clear and correct description of the Hell and its different circles.
Allegorically, Inferno also shows the journey of a soul or a person through his religious conflicts and spiritual realization. Dante shows how people are punished for not taking the right path. It also shows his conviction that he is on the right path and has avoided the black forest. Here, black forest means the wrong path or the path that the sinners have chosen. The description of the sinners and different circles of the Hell reinforces that the journey of a person decides where their souls go.