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Revenge can be described as the act of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for a wrong suffered at their hands. In Dante’s Inferno, Dante creates an imaginary hell where there are various modes of punishment that people are subjected to as a result of their actions and inactions, while they were on Earth. While the poem is fictitious, its implications are great as he uses characters that are known to him. On a deeper level Dante’s Inferno is a veiled attempt to revenge on Dante’s political enemies and all those who never shared his worldview as his perceived rivals are depicted to be in hell.
The work is set in 1300 on Good Friday. Dante was in the forest completely lost. His only hope is the mountain overlooking him but his attempt to climb it is prevented by a lion, leopard and a wolf. Completely frightened, he goes back to the forest having almost lost hope. However, a ghost appears (Virgil) who offers to guide him up to the peak of the mountain. The journey though will take them through hell. Dante is to be taken to Heaven, where his former lover Beatrice is waiting for him. Virgil assures Dante that it was indeed Beatrice who had sent him (Virgil) to guide him (Dante) (Kashdan et al.).
Hell, he finds out, is divided into circles. At entry they are met with cowards who have to chase a flag. These people spent their lives without doing good or evil. Thereafter, they cross R. Achelon and enter the first circle. This circle is for those that were never baptized in their lifetime but led a righteous life. As a result, their punishment is longing to see God. The second circle has the judge Minos. This circle is for the lustful who are continually blown about by a storm. The gluttons are in the third circle, condemned under a continual cold rain. The fourth circle is guarded by Pluto and has two groups: the squanderers and hoarders. Both of them wander in semicircles carrying big boulders (Kashdan et al.).
The fifth circle is located on a swamp, Styx, and is the zone for the wrathful. Here, some of the condemned are totally immersed in the muddy waters while others are half immersed. Their entry into the sixth circle (in the city of Dis) is blocked. They are allowed only after the intervention of an angel. The sixth circle is for the heretics in fiery tombs. The heretics here can only see the future. The violent are placed in the seventh circle which is divided into three: those violent towards their neighbors (punished by being immersed in boiling blood), the suicides (transformed into trees) and those violent against their own wealth (continually torn apart by dogs). The third subdivision also has three violent types: blasphemers, sodomites and usurers punished by fire being hurled at them (Bloom et al.).
The fraudulent find themselves in circle eight called Malebolge. It is divided into ten pouches. Seducers and panderers are in the first pouch and are continually lashed by demons. Flatterers (2) are immersed in feces. Simonists (3) are into rock holes with their feet up. The soothsayers (4) have their faces backwards. The other pouches are for barrators (in boiling tar), hypocrites (covered with heavy lead caps as they walk), thieves (tormented by serpents), fraudulent counselors (put in flames), sowers of discord (subjected to wounding) and falsifiers who are subdivided into four groups namely falsifiers of metal, of persons, of coins and of words (Bloom et al.).
The last circle is located in a frozen lake. Lucifer is at the center of the circle. This circle is for the traitors and is subdivided into four: traitors of relatives, of country, of guests and the fourth one (against own benefactors) reseved for Lucifer. He is pictured to have three heads and mouths and he is chewing Judas, Brutus and Cassius. Their adventure is now complete (Bloom et al).
Through Dante’s Inferno, Dante was able to attack his political enemies at the time. By depicting his enemies as suffering in hell in their afterlife, it can be concluded that he indeed was trying to extract some revenge on his foes and other people who had different ideologies from his. This next section looks at some of Dante’s enemies and how he depicts them suffering.
Dante first meets the person he knows in the fifth circle but this time round he feels no pity for the man (Kashdan et al). The man, Philipo Argenti, had attempted to prevent Dante’s and Virgil’s voyage through the swampy Styx. From this episode, it appears that Philipo and Dante must have clashed in their lifetime. In fact, Dante is pleased when other sinners jump on him and tear him apart. It is believed that Philipo was an arrogant and temperamental man during his lifetime. Therefore, his tormenting in hell pleased Dante clearly (Appelbaum).
One of Dante’s political rivals is condemned into the sixth circle of open flaming tombs. This was the part of hell reserved for those who went against established religious doctrines. His name is Farinata degli Uberti who was head of Ghibelline party prior to Dante’s birth (Appelbaum). Well, Dante and Farinata had very opposing views when the former was still alive. In this circle, Dante also meets Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti who happened to be his best friend’s father. By placing his political rival in this circle, Dante implies that his political and religious views were the right ones. Therefore, Farinata is being tormented as a result of opposing Dante’s views. This can be taken to be some sort of revenge to his political enemy.
Although Dante does not meet him, this circle also had Frederick II who was once a Roman Emperor. Frederick was deceived into believing that a pope had gone against the Catholic doctrines and commit adultery. The pope as punishment lost his eyes as ordered by Frederick. He later killed himself had sexual intercourse (Harvard Classics). Dante was not impressed.
The two poets, Dante and Virgil, are met by an awful stench that they just have to sit outside the seventh circle for a while. They sat on Pope Anastasius II tomb who was believed to be a member of a heretical cult then (Appelbaum). It rightfully corresponds with other sinners in this circle. From the poem, Dante implies that he was against the Pope’s heretical tendencies and must suffer as a result.
Dante meets two naked souls Lano da Siena and Jacopo da Sant'Andrea in the second group of sinners at the seventh circle. This group was reserved for those who had squandered their wealth. As punishment, they are subjected to hungry female dogs that constantly bite them, tearing them apart. Lano and Jacopo were notorious in squandering their possessions during Dante’s lifetime (Appelbaum). Therefore, Dante envisions them suffering as a result in this poem.
Capaneus, a former king of Greece, is encountered in the fourth group of the seventh circle: the blasphemers. He is charged with once claiming that not even God could stand in his way. He was struck by lightning there and then and hence condemned to an afterlife in the rain of fire. While others were clearly suffering from the fire, he seemed calm and defiant to God even in hell (Durling).
Brunetto Latini, according to the poem, was deemed a homosexual and as a result he was condemned to walk on hot sand. Dante always looked up to him as a father figure and teacher ((Durling). He was also a great writer and held various political positions in Florence, Dante’s homeland. Since Dante was also a politician, it can be presumed that he saw Latini as a rival of his. Portraying him as a homosexual which was a serious offence at the time can be seen as a sort of revenge used by Dante.
During his lifetime, Dante always believed in the separation of church activities and the politics of the state. This position always clashed with the Pope Boniface VIII who clamored for the increased Catholic influence in the politics of Florence (Durling). Therefore, these two were enemies. In this poem, Dante labels the Pope a simonist. Other dubious popes to suffer the same fate are Pope Nicholas III and Pope Clement V. Dante labels them as adulterous. It is very clear from the poem that Dante had serious confrontations with these popes and predicts the worst for all of them as a result of their ‘dirty’ deeds and their betrayal of the church.
Two magistrates of Florence then, (referred to as Joyous Friars of Bologna), Catalano and Loderingo have been portrayed as hypocrites by Dante in his poem (Harvard Classics). This implies that, according to Dante, they were not fair during their rulings and must suffer as a consequence.
At the eighth circle, the seventh stage, Dante comes into contact with the notorious Vanni Fucci. Originally from Pistoia, Fucci stole Sacristy (two silver tablets with the image of Virgin) from the local Cathedral and was successful in escaping. He seems defiant even in hell as he makes an obscene gesture towards Dante, only restricted by two serpents. Dante was a religious man and perhaps this played a part in placing Fucci so low in hell. In reality, Fucci may have escaped but not in Dante’s thoughts (Durling et al.).
In the last ditch of the eighth circle, the two poets come across Griffolino d'Arezzo who had falsely obtaining money from another man in the pretense that he will touch the man how to fly. He was burned as a result (Appelbaum). Dante, through the poem envisions this crime as so gross that he is placed at the last ditch of the eighth circle and one of the deepest canyons of hell. Another falsifier at the ditch is Master Adam de Anglia who caused a currency crisis in Florence (Durling et al.).
In the ninth circle, Dante and Virgil come across Count Ugolino and Archbishop Ruggieri. The former was gnawing the latter’s skull. Ugolino was the mayor of Pisa at the time but was tricked by Ruggeri into leaving the town. He was captured and starved to death later. Dante was very angry when he was told this story and cursed Pisa (Benet Readers).
There are other people that Dante meets in hell who had done various misdemeanors and were being tormented. Most of these characters are clearly known to Dante and some of them had physically interacted with him.
Dante’s Inferno may be a poem, but it has a compelling theme. Rather than choosing fictitious characters Dante used real people for his poem. As the main character, Dante depicts all those he cherished as clean and not in hell. In fact, his beloved Beatrice is in heaven while his mentor Virgil is in limbo. It should not be lost that he doesn’t encounter his friend anywhere in hell. Most of those that shared different views from his are in hell together with those he deemed evil. His political rivals were not spared either. Dante was able to subdivide hell into categories and place his enemies in the categories systematically. In general, it can be concluded that Dante’s Inferno was Dante’s private revenge fantasy rendered on a large scale.