Dante's Divine Comedy: The Inferno, Part One Hot Sins and the Places We Are Stuck
Above: Discussing the Divine Comedy by Taiwanese artists Dudu, Li Tiezi, and Zhang An. To view a scroll over details of this painting, click here
Dante is stuck in the middle of a dark woods, hemmed in on all sides by three ravenous beasts: a lion (signifying pride), a leopard (connoting lust) and a wolf (symbolizing greed or ambition). His great idol, the poet Virgil, appears to help guide him, but there is no way to escape without first going through Hell. Above the Gates to the Inferno is inscribed the words, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”
Hot vs Cold: Hell gets colder as you descend- the worst sins are those of coldheartedness.
*Important! The difference between Hell and Purgatory is not the action of the individual, but the attitude. Those in Hell are stuck and unrepentant; those in Purgatory are contrite and regretful. At a psychological level, Hell is where we are in denial, isolated in narcissism and oblivious to the effect our actions have on others. Purgatory is the state of being that involves the long, slow and painful work of accountability and transformation.
The circles of the Inferno follow contrapasso, where punishment fits the crime Ante-Hell: The “Lukewarm” and uncommitted chase a banner while stung by wasps, indicating the pricks of conscience for not taking a stand in life 1.Limbo- the virtuous unbaptized, Elysian fields, castle, the Philosophers and poets of the pagan world. Quite lovely, actually. 2.Lust – Blown about by dark winds are those who succumbed to too much passion, including the famous real life lovers Paola and Francesca who were murdered for their adulterous love affair by Paolo's brother and Francesca's husband who, it is intimated, Dante will meet " lower down". This doomed pair was the impetus for the operas by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, and the inspiration for Rodin's Fugit Amor and The Kiss. 3.Gluttony-gurgling mud, signifying the gross appetites and physical addictions 4. Greed- both hoarders and squanderers, jousting with enormous weights 5. The Wrathful and the Sullen eternally fight one another, either on the surface or gurgling beneath dark waters
Questions for reflection: Have you ever been "blown away" by infatuation, unable to see straight? What do you know in your own life of the difference between enmeshment and true love? Dante found enormous relief and consolation by identifying where the people in his life and culture would be placed. Looking at our culture today, what important. unrepentant figures of our time belong in these "Hot" circles of denial and defensiveness? Which of the "hot" sins have made you lose your way or get stuck? How would you define hell? What hells have you known which Dante could not or did not imagine? Below is a description of another circle of hell by one of my favorite poets:
Below are two operatic setting of Canot V, the story of Paolo and Francesca. On the left, Rachmaninoff's one act opera, on the right the final scene of Ricardo Zandonai's opera both entitled Francesca da Rimini.
Hell by Billy Collins
I have a feeling that it is much worse than shopping for a mattress at a mall,
of greater duration without question, and there is no random pitchforking here, no licking flames to fear, only this cavernous store with its maze of bedding.
Yet wandering past the jovial kings, the more sensible queens, and the cheerless singles no scarlet sheet will ever cover,
I am thinking of a passage from the Inferno, which I could fully bring to mind and recite in English or even Italian if the salesman who has been following us-- a crumpled pack of Newports visible in the pocket of his short sleeve shirt-- would stop insisting for a moment that we test this one, then this softer one,
which we do by lying down side by side, arms rigid, figures on a tomb, powerless to imagine what it would be to like
to sleep or love this way under the punishing rows of fluorescent lights, which Dante might have included had he been able to lie on his back between us here today