Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno has been renowned as a great classic of western literature. To completely understand the direction of the novel you must to read between the lines. There are many reasons as to why Dante gave his sinners such specific punishments. Most of these punishments were closely related or the opposite of the sins committed. Irony is seen in many ways throughout The Inferno. As Dante takes you through his version of Hell he uses imagery to describe each of his nine levels, it’s sinners, and their punishments. The first time irony is seen in Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno is at the entrance to the nderworld in circle three.
This part of Hell holds the Gluttons and the chief sinner Cerberus. In life the Gluttons over indulged in almost everything. Their actions were grotesque, ugly and wasteful. Their actions in life eventually lead to their punishments in Hell. As their punishment the sinners were rained on by dirty rain, and garbage. The sinners also had to stand in worms that were decomposing their mess. The punishment that Dante gave them illustrates irony in more than one way. In life the sinners overindulged in everything, especially food. Therefore they will orever have to live in an environment with garbage and food all around them.
Another way irony is seen is in the three headed dog, Cerberus. Cerberus was always eating and he was never satisfied which is an exact parallel to the sinners’ lives. Because Cerberus was never satisfied it was easy to see that he represented the sinner group of Gluttons. Irony is also seen in the fourth circle. This level of hell is home to the Hoarders and the Squanderers. In life the Hoarders kept everything even if they no longer needed it. They wanted to keep things Just for the sake of holding possession over it. However, they did not appreciate or cherish anything they held.
They did not seem to have any sympathy for the less fortunate who hardly held the bare minimum. On the other hand the Squanderers threw everything away. They were very unappreciative of their belongings. Both groups of sinners were very wasteful. In return Dante punished them by proving to them that they were all wrong. The sinners were then forced to push stones against each other, both sides saying the other is wrong in the way that they managed their possessions. “They struck each other; at that point, each urned around and, wheeling back those weights “Why do you hoard? ” “Why do you squander? (Alighieri 145) Because the sinners each represented an opposite end of the spectrum they worked against each other to balance each other out. The sixth circle holds the Heretics. This punishment was Dante’s first cruel physical punishment. In life these sinners went against God. The Heretics believed that everything died with the body and that there was no soul. In Dante’s hell they were locked in burning tombs for all eternity. Dante not only punished them with hot and crowded tombs, but also made them suffer through dying eternally. They were not allowed to see the present only the past.
Dante used fire as a symbol of God’s love; it consumes the sinners in torture. The sinners will never be able to escape God’s love in hell. walked over the bridge in canto XVII he looked down only to see the Flatterers “plunged in excrement that seemed as if had been poured from human privies. ” (Alighieri 143) In life the Flatterers were always spewing excrement through flattery and they now, ironically enough, will be immersed in it for eternity. In the same circle the Panderers and Seducers are held. In life the Panderers and Seducers forced others to do their “dirty’ work. They would walk the streets as prostitutes selling their bodies.
In Hell they were punished by having to walk on either side of a ditch on the street but they were not permitted to stop. Because these sinners willingly walked up and down the street in life they were then forced to do it for all eternity without a destination. Dante’s punishment took into account what the sinners did in life and forced them to do it without being able to stop. One of Dante’s more creative punishments were for those who sinned within the flesh or were lustful. These sinners were forced to forever float in “the hellish hurricane” with the person they committed the sin with but they could not touch each other.
This was a very ironic punishment because the sinners committed lustful acts with these people and will now be forced to look at them without being able to touch them forever. It was like torture for the sinners to be able to see each other but not touch one another. Irony is also seen in the eighth circle Bolgia four that holds the Fortune Tellers and Diviners. These sinners attempted to move themselves forward in time. This sin was distortion of God’s law, so as part of their punishment their bodies were to be distorted for all eternity.
The sinners also had to walk backwards forever with their heads on backward as well and their eyes blinded with tears. “… I saw that each of them was hideously distorted between the top of the chest and the lines of the jaw’ (Alighieri 161). In circle eight Bolgia five Dante highlighted the symbolism of the punishment of the Grafters. These sinners committed the crime of stealing from people that they knew. The sinners in this level of hell were penalized by being immersed in a sticky ubstance that they could not break free from. This substance was meant to symbolize the sinners’ sticky fingers that they used to committed sins in life.
The sticky pit also served as a way to hide the shameful faces of the sinners in this level of Dante’s Hell. “l saw the pitch; but nothing in it” (Alighieri170). In life these sinners had sticky fingers and stole many if their possessions so their punishment was to forever be stuck in one place. The next time irony was used in the novel was in circle seven. This circle holds the sinners who were violent against their neighbors. Their punishment was set according to the degree of their guilt. The punishment these sinners received was to forever wade in boiling blood.
If one’s sin was less severe they do not have to be in a deep part of the river. In life the sinners were very violent and witnessed or contributed to a lot of blood shed therefore in the underworld they forever had to live in boiling blood. “There we shall find a river of boiling blood in which are steeped all who struck down their fellow men” (Alighieri 94). Irony is illustrated again in circle eight Bolgia seven. This level of hell holds the Thieves. The sinners’ punishment in this level of hell was to be constricted by a snake always reforming from their ashes.
In life these sinners were thieves whose greatest asset were their hands so in Hell they would not be able to use their hands forever. “Their hands were bound behind by coils of serpents which thrust their heads and tails between the loins an bunched in front, a mass knot of torments” (Alighieri 198) The above examples give insight to the intended irony in Alighieri’s novel. Irony is demonstrated by using Juxtaposition throughout each of the nine levels. Dante’s unishments were often the opposite of what the groups intended with their sins.