Dante’s Inferno is the most well-known and influential work of the thirteenth century. Dante’s Inferno is not a simple story of his journey through Hell. He depicts Hell with a very vivid picture and description. Dante’s Inferno is one part of the Divine Comedy. The Divine Comedy contains very realistic and frank concepts of the politics, religion and culture of Italy in the late thirteenth and early the fourteenth centuries. This paper develops the most salient political, cultural, and theological elements of Dante’s Inferno, what he wants to tell about his values through his book, and how the book represents western European Mediterranean culture around 1300.
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In this time period, Italy was in political chaos. It lacked a stable and secure government. Furthermore, there were competing political factions and turmoil. In these troubled circumstances, Dante’s represents the political thought of the European nations in his book Inferno. The most salient political element of Inferno is the competing political factions in Italy. During his journey in the book Inferno, he criticizes the political factions in Italy many times. As he says, “From there downward he is all of chosen iron, save that his right foot is of baked clay, and he stands erect on that more than on the other.”(Canto XIV) The right foot of baked clay represents the corruption of the church by political factions.
Moreover, Dante also thinks that the cause of rebellion was political factions, too. According to the book, he states, “But that ungrateful populace malign which descended from Fiesole of old, and smacks yet of the mountain and the rock, will hate thee because of thy good deeds; and this is right, for among the bitter sorb trees it is not fitting the sweet fig should bear fruit.” (Canto XV) This phrase, “Ungrateful populace malign which descended from Fiesole of old”, represents the Fiesole people who settled down in Florence (Firenze). Dante thought that the Fiesole was the cause of political factions in Firenze. In addition, “the bitter sorb trees” means the political faction in Firenze and ‘the sweet fig’ represents Dante himself. Dante thinks all of the political corruption came from the political factions. According to his thought, political factions are regarded as a sin in Hell. For example, Dante’s political enemy placed in the fifth level, the wrathful level. He is very excited to see his political enemy being punished and moreover Dante wants him to be punished more harshly.
As he says, “Master, it certainly would make me happy to see him dunked deep in the slop just once before we leave the lake – it truly would”(Dante 140, Canto VIII). He was a member of the political faction opposite Dante, the Black Guelphs. As you see, Dante hates political factions in Florence. He frankly criticizes political factions in his book. The most salient cultural elements in Dante’s Inferno are Roman-Greco traditions, beliefs, and culture. Roman-Greco culture is the key element in Dante’s Inferno. He borrows many stories from Roman-Greco mythology. In Inferno, Roman-Greco traditions and beliefs are very significant for leading the story. For example, the idea of evil and the order of sinners are all from Roman-Greco culture. Furthermore, Zeus’s mythology is in Inferno, too. The most major theological element in Dante’s Inferno is the concept of the belief in the Holy Trinity. Firstly, the existence of Hell is an element of the Christian tradition.
The belief in the Holy Trinity concept informs the structure of Hell. There are nine circles in Inferno. ‘9’ is the Holy number in Christianity. In the Inferno, 9 Concentric Circles are the fundamental structure of Hell. Dante uses numbers 1,3,9(3), 10,(31), 100(10). There are three animals, 100 Canti Jesus. Among the numbers ‘10’ is the perfect number in Christianity. Dante may want to express the heaven after the nine circles, thus heaven will be the tenth circle. In addition, there are many references to the Bible and Christian theology. For example, in the First Circle of Hell, there are spirits of those who lived virtuously but without Christianity. Dante thinks that the lack of Christianity is also a sin. “The good Master to me, “Thou dost not ask what spirits are these that thou seest. Now I would have thee know, before thou goest farther, that they sinned out; and if they have merits it sufficeth not, because they had not baptism, which is part of the faith that thou believest; and if they were before Christianity, they did not duly worship God: and of such as these am I myself.” (Canto IV). Through Dante’s Inferno, there are Nine Circles in Hell. According to the Nine Circles in Hell, we can study the culture and society aspects in the thirteenth century through the gravity of the offence. The Nine Circles are divided by the gravity of the offence.
The First Circle is for people who placed in Limbo such as virtuous pagans, the Second Circle to the Fifth Circle: Lust, gluttony, greed, and anger. The Sixth Circle is for heretics, the seventh represents violence, the eighth circle exists for people who commit sin of fraud and the Last Ninth Circle is for people who commit malice or treachery. According to the each circle of sins in Hell, we assume that heretics, violence and fraud treated heavily in the thirteenth century. Not only the gravity of the offence in the thirteenth century, but also we can see the society aspects from Dante’s Inferno. Through the book, we can guess that the simony prevailed in the thirteenth century. For instance, there were spirits in Hell who perpetrate simony. Furthermore, the pope’s status raised and it became very powerful in Europe compare to before the thirteenth century. As he says, “…but already the time is longer that I have cooked my feet, and that I have been thus upside down, than he will stay planted with red feet; for after him will come, of uglier deed, from westward, a shepherd without law…”(Canto XVIII) This phrases represent of the Clement V who will come from Avignon.
Avignonese Captivity is an incident that Clement V moved the Vatican to the Southern part of France. This incident signifies that the pope’s status raised and it was really powerful as much as he could move the Vatican. Lastly, the most important thing to Dante through the book is an act of treachery. Through Dante’s Inferno, he made the last circle of Hell for people who commit treachery. It is because he was afraid of the temptation of treachery. He dearly wanted to go back to his town at that time. However, if he goes back to his town, he had to take a opposite political party who exiled Dante from his hometown. It means that he commits treachery to people who followed him. He would not want to commit treachery to people who supported him. Thus, through the book, he articulates his value that he would not commit treachery to people who followed him. Not only the determination of the act of treachery to Dante, but also he completes the definition of the God in Hell and understands about the structure of Hell through the book, Inferno.
In conclusion, the most salient political element of Dante’s Inferno is competing political factions. Because of troubled circumstances in Italy in the thirteenth century, Dante hates about the competing political factions and he thinks that all causes of political chaos in Italy is competing political factions. The cultural element in Inferno is Roman-Greco tradition, beliefs culture. Through the book, Dante borrowed many stories from Roman-Greco tradition culture. For example, the order of sinner and the concept of evil were borrowed from Roman-Greco tradition culture. Furthermore, a mythology about the Zeus is one of the examples of Roman-Greco beliefs. Theological element of Dante’s Inferno is the belief of the Holy Trinity by using numbers such as 1,3,9,10,100. Also, he borrowed and used references to the Bible and Christian theology. We also can guess the culture and social aspect in 1300. At that time period, simony prevailed all over Europe and the pope’s status was very powerful. Through the book, Inferno, Dante wants to articulate his thought of treachery. He determines that he would not commit treachery because of temptation by his own desire. Dante’s Inferno was the most experimental work in the thirteenth century. His book implies political, religious and cultural elements in the thirteenth century.