Hillary Stryker ENGL 2201 Position Paper #3 In Dante’s Inferno, sinners in Hell are punished according to the nature of their sin. Dante uses the concept of contrapasso, so that the punishment fits the crime of the sinners. Some sinners literally become the embodiment of their sins, while others become victims in the afterlife of the crimes they committed while living. In the Inferno, sinners aren’t just damned to Hell for eternity, but punished individually for the crimes that got them there.
In Canto 3, Contrapasso is illustrated in a subtle way. The individuals in this reside in the Anti-Inferno, punished not for sinning but for being neutral. They have lived without praise and without blame, living an undecided life without a relationship with God. Their “neutral” attitude is punished by forcing them to walk in a crowd following a banner. The banner symbolizes a leader, serving as a direct punishment for their indecisive nature. Behind that banner trailed so long a file of people…” Additionally, Dante describes this section of Hell as “the city of desolation,” often viewed as meaning a sorrowful city. This further emphasizes Dante calling the souls “lost,” implying that they had no direction and are therefore punished for their indecisiveness. In Canto 6, the sinners that reside there are guilty of gluttony. Gluttony means over-indulgence and over consumption of food, drunk, or intoxicants to the point of waste.
In this Canto, there is a guardian named Cerberus. Cerberus is a 3-headed dog and is an image of gluttony with his 3 heads and 3 mouths, and is also a distortion of the Holy Trinity. Cerberus is described, “Just as a dog that barks with greedy hunger will then fall quiet when he gnaws his food. ” The contrapasso in the Canto is that the sinners must lie in the muddy slime while they are constantly batter by rain, hail, sleet, and snow. In addition they are also clawed by Cerberus, the 3-headed dog and guardian of this Circle.
The build of muck portrays an image of the sinner’s excess wallowing in the mud, like the pigs they were in life. This punishment makes them live a disgusting and filthy afterlife, fitting for the gluttony they are accused of. In Canto 7, the sinners that reside in the Fourth Circle are the Avaricious and the Prodigal. They are also known as hoarders and spenders; hoarders wasted all their wealth on things for themselves, while spenders used up all they had on ventures and useless materials.
The sinners’ punishment was to roll around large weights in half circles. They would run into each other and then had to turn around and do the same thing. Dante refers to it as a “Semi Circle Joust. ” The contrapasso of this Canto is that their misuse of fortune is in opposition, so they are forced to move in opposite directions around the circle. The weights they have to push around symbolize the burden of material wealth. The guardian/demon of this Circle, Plutus, was the roman god of wealth; his collapse suggests the emptiness that wealth brings.
The punishment of making the sinners roll around weights in semicircles is directly connected to their sin of avaricious and prodigal. In Canto 13, the sinners are punished for committing violence against themselves or against their possessions. These sinners have committed suicide, taking one’s own life. The contrapasso for this Canto is that these souls are damned to live as trees in the woods. Since they deliberately destroyed their body and proved they didn’t want it, their souls are doomed to be in trees in the Forest of Suicides.
The souls as trees are constantly breaking, bleeding, and feeling physical pain. The point Dante attempts to prove by this is that the sinners wasted their bodies on Earth, so he’s going to tear them apart in Hell. Not only are the sinners stripped of their ability to reside in human form; they are also tortured as trees by Harpies. Harpies are mythological monsters with heads of women and bodies in the shape of birds. Harpies nest in the Forest of Suicides, “…feeding of its leaves, cause pain and for that pain provide a vent. This punishment fits the crime that they wasted their human form, stripping them of that body and by torturing them to live as a tree and be tortured by Harpies. In Dante’s Inferno, contrapasso is found in many of the Circles of Hell. The word contrapasso literally means, “counter-step,” which represents the idea that the sin equals the punishment. Throughout the travels of the different Circles of Hell, the individuals are punished by paralleling the sin that brought them there. Dante used the concept of contrapasso to prove the idea of what goes around, comes around eventually.