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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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OTHER ELEMENTS

SETTING

Dante's Inferno deals specifically with Hell. We each have our
own idea of the worst possible way to spend eternity. The
differences come from differences in values, dislikes, fears,
experiences, etc. When Dante created his Hell, he wanted
somehow to get at all the differences and yet present a
coherent pattern, Sin was sin, but the same punishment just
would not do for everyone. How could he create a pattern that
handled each sin uniquely and yet clearly defined sin?

1. Structurally, Hell is another one of these medieval
hierarchies. Hell is a huge, funnel-shaped pit that occupies the
center of the earth directly below Jerusalem and the rest of the
northern hemisphere. The pit is divided into nine circles and a
vestibule (a kind of waiting room). Each circle contains souls
who committed a particular kind of sin. (See the map in The
Plot section of this guide.)



2. Philosophically, Hell is structured around Dante's concept
of sin. Man has free will. Everyone gets, ultimately, what he
chooses. As we go through Hell with Dante, we will see that
the inhabitants had insisted on sin and that their punishments
and suffering are very often simply a continuation of the sin
they had chosen.

Dante makes distinctions between three basic kinds of sin:
Incontinence (loss of self-control), Violence, and Fraud. The
sins of Incontinence are the least offensive to God and,
consequently, they're placed closest to him near the surface of
the earth. As the sins get worse, they're placed farther from
God. The sins of Fraud, the most offensive, are placed closest
to the center of the earth. Satan occupies the very center of the
earth.

3. Hell is not only a geographical place, but also a
representation of the potential for sin and evil within every
individual human soul. As Dante travels through Hell, he sees
sinners in increasingly more hideous and disgusting situations.
For Dante, each situation is an image of the quality of any soul
that is determined to sin in that particular way. He also
suggests with his hierarchical arrangement, that the descent
into sin can be a gradual process, that sinners might easily slip
down into more serious sins from less serious states. (Those of
you who go on to read the other parts of the Comedy will
notice that the intensity of sin grows as we descend in Hell,
but the scale of virtues climbs up Mount Purgatory and
ascends to Heaven.)

Dante isn't telling us anything we don't already know. How
easy is it to slip off a diet, out of an exercise routine, or a
study pattern? How difficult is it to maintain enough self-
discipline to keep on the path until we reach the goal? Hell is
the picture of the end result of those who, spiritually, let it
slide.

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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