Mini-Tragedies in Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno

The Devine Comedy by Dante Alighieri provides an allegory that succinctly presents human life through a visionary trip into the Christian afterlife. The author’s intention for writing the book was for it to serve as a stern warning to the establishment and the corrupt who were expected to abandon their old ways and move towards the path of eternal righteousness. The first person perspective that Dante uses gives us his journey through three realms that Christians enter after death; hell (Inferno), purgatory (Purgatorio) and heaven (Paradiso).  For the purpose of writing this essay, the focus will be on Dante’s journey through hell (Inferno) where the Roman poet Vigil guides him (Bloom, 2011, p. 85). His journey in this alien environment lasts the same period of Dante’s actual exile from the Republic of Florence, which always looms throughout his journey, serving as an undercurrent.

Additionally, Dante’s journey allows him to meet a phenomenal assortment of sinners in different states, a tragedy that sees him stop at every stage to converse with them. Dante’s portrayal of these notable figures during his journey exposes a series of tragedies that are of a microscopic magnitude.  The purpose of this essay is to analyze the microscopic tragedies of Paolo and Francesca(Canto V), Ulysses(Canto XXVI) and Pier Della Vigne( Canto XIII), and determine why these individuals know for being attractive in intellect, personalities went ahead and made wrong decisions knowingly which led to their fates.

Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini receive punishment for their apparent adultery and are cast to hell for this. Francesca continues with her affair with Paolo even when she fully aware that they are brothers. Historians believe that Francesca was tricked into entering a marriage with Gianciotto who she describes as an uncouth cripple who was very much disfigured. After meeting his younger brother, a handsome man by the name Paulo, she cannot control her feelings of passion for him and falls in love with him. She continues with her adulterous act, even with full knowledge of  God’s commandments stipulate concerning extra-marital affairs,  increasingly finding herself in the arms of her younger lover. It is during one of these escapades that her husband finds them both in a compromising situation, and being aware that they were having an affair, he lunges forward with a sword towards his brother. In trying to save her lover, Francesca comes between them, is struck and dies instantly. Dante meets Francesca and Paulo in hell during his journey, where she proceeds to relate her story. The story is so moving that a melancholy Dante weeps in pity. The gravity of the profound love story that landed these two lovers in hell saddens him to the point that he swoons. Even with all her beauty and intelligence, Francesca had been unable to act with restraint and avoid committing this sin, which meant that she would have to spend the rest of her life in damnation as a tormented spirit (Benfell, 2011, p. 49). Man’s fallibility is proved by her actions because with the knowledge tract she was endowed with, she still went ahead to commit this transgression against her husband and God.

While moving with Dante through the pathless wood, Virgil tells a story, an insight into why he is hell in the first place and where he might most likely repeat the same action if he ever returns to earth. In his formative years, Virgil was an honest and faithful minister that served Fredrick II diligently. After a substantial period of time in this profession, the other countries are soon envious because he did not accept any form of bribe, subsequently turning Frederick II against him (Dante & Longfellow, 2017, p. 134). A sorrow-filled Virgil cannot bear to live life with these accusations of disloyalty and decides to take his own life, a catastrophe that lands his in hell. He too, being a poet and minister, was an intelligent individual who was aware that suicide was not acceptable to the societal code and religious authority strictly forbidding it. Unfortunately, the grief that engulfs Virgil, prompts him to take a drastic measure, taking his own life. In hell, the punishment for committing suicide is very harsh with those that committed suicide on earth being denied human form. It is only during the Last Judgement that these suicides will be able to rise again and occupy their bodies again. They will also not wear these bodies as the will be suspended the trees that enfold those spirits that are of their owners. A gentleman, an intellectual and a cultured man deciding that he would let his single act of suicide prevent all hope of ever engaging in repentance and thus condemning himself to eternal damnation. Della Vigne arouses sympathetic feelings as he is a man of unimaginable greatness, but in a moment of weakness decides to take an irretrievable action, suicide. After his many years of service as a devoted noble, he now faces eternal condemnation.

Canto XXVI contains the poignant tale of Ulysses. It first starts with a passionate address that was meant for the Republic of Florence. It is an address that speaks of the high number of Florentines in hell owing to their terrible actions. It is when these two poets move to the eighth chasm that thousands of minute flames come to sight. Each of these flames is said to contain sinners who are at that moment hidden from view to the roaring flames tat surround them. Individuals found in this locality are referred to as “the Evil Counselors” as they were people of unimaginable power during their stay on earth but decided to use it and the intellect they had to commits acts of sheer evil. A two-pronged boisterous flame happens to conceal Ulysses. He is here because of the evil deeds that he was guilty of committing while on earth; ambushing the Trojan horse, the theft of an Athenian statue, Pallas and the King’s beautiful daughter who was abandoned by Achilles. Ulysses also tells Virgil the story of his death, when he was filled with wanderlust and successfully convinced some of his friends to take a rather long voyage with him on the high seas (Iannucci, Edmunds, Ellement, University of Toronto, & University of Toronto, 2000, p. 34). After five months of sailing beyond the Hercules’ Pillars, a storm that broke out suddenly ended his life. Ulysses was aware that reaching the mountain that he so wished to encounter would be dangerous but did not let such thoughts dampen his spirit. His mind was made up and after convincing his friends this far-fetched errand would begin and finally end in tragedy . Ulysses was fully aware of the fact that he was risking his life but his penchant for adventure led him to overlook an eventuality such as death. He is clearly an able and shrewd leader, but his flaming passion blinds him to the point where he plunges head first into his death. The retribution that he is met within the core of the eighth chasm is meant to fit the sins that were perpetrated when they were alive. It is because of the evil counsel that these people had given to religious leaders that had landed them here as they were responsible for misusing God’s gifts.

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