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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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For the only explanation we can offer, look back at Dante's
concept of the universe, especially at the idea of hierarchy.
Stability and order are based on each person and each thing
staying in his proper place and doing well with his particular
responsibilities. To threaten or plot against the leaders of any
society is a capital crime because it threatens the order and
security of the entire group. In Dante's time, with society
structured in a far more hierarchical, far less democratic way,
the sin must have seemed even worse.

Here Dante speaks to Friar Albergio, who deceived and
slaughtered his brother. Dante promises, in return for the
man's story, to undo the ice which forms from the pools of
tears the prone sinner weeps, forcing the sinner to weep
inwardly. After hearing the friar's story, and seeing Branca
d'Oria pointed out, Dante refuses to remove the ice and calls
such churlishness "a courtesy."



NOTE: Two things bother students immensely here. One,
Branca d'Oria is still alive, yet his soul is in Hell. This doesn't
seem to fit with Dante's whole concept of free will as the
source of eternal placement. Couldn't the man repent, start
making amends, and be sent to Purgatory? If we remember
that this poem is at least partly allegory, we might be able to
explain this as an image of the soul in the depths of sin. It is so
frozen away from God and into the will to sin that it probably
can't find its way even to begin repentance. In other words,
Dante might be trying to suggest a condition of the spirit
rather than an actual happening or point of doctrine.

The other thing that students find hard to buy is Dante's
refusal to remove the ice from the Friar's eyes after he
promises to do so. Is this simple cruelty? It looks as though
Dante is doing exactly what the sinners are being punished
for-being insincere and untrustworthy. Before we judge, let's
raise a question. Can you be kind and fair to everyone on
earth? Would or could you be fair to a Hitler? Fairness is
based on mutual trust; sinners this treacherous can't be
trusted. In this place of treachery, there is no place for
honesty. Even Virgil had to flatter the Giants to get here. Also,
if we remember that part of Dante's journey is the moral and
allegorical journey to understand exactly what sin is, we can
see his cruelty as progress. Dante now sees sin for the
perversion that it is and is learning to guard himself against
it.

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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