Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Bottom of Hell

In theology classes, the question "Does Hell have a ceiling?" is a familiar, unanswerable chestnut -- like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, 'the world may never know.' It definitely has a floor, though. It comes as a surprise to many that in Dante's vision, the bottommost layer is a lake not of fire, but ice -- symbolizing the immobility, the stasis, the incapacity for change that, for him, were the ultimate marks of evil.

"It is no easy undertaking to describe the bottom of the Universe," as Dante himself admits in Canto XXXII, but describe it he must. And, as he so often does, Dante suggests this vastness with little things, as he unknowingly stubs his toe on the twinned heads of Alessandro and Napoleone, brothers and Counts of Mangona -- famous for having killed one another. Nearby is Mordred, the treacherous nephew of King Arthur, for he, too, is guilty of killing kindred. Most of the other inhabitants of this final, dread circle are unknown to us today, but in its center stands Satan, three-headed in mockery of the Trinity, with a different traitor in each mouth -- and their names are are familiar: Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed Caesar, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ. That men who killed a pagan emperor are grouped with a man who betrayed God himself may seem strange, but Virgil assures Dante that Judas is  "the soul that suffers most," since he is both burned by Satan's "fiery chin" and mangled in his maw.

Worse is yet to come, as the only exit is for the two Poets to climb down Satan's hairy backside, with all that that implies (thankfully, Dante spares us a description, but suggests the disgust by having Virgil turn his eyes away and stare at his own feet). The next stop for them is the Purgatorio, where those who suffer only from venial sins have them 'burnt and purged away' -- but we emerge, perhaps more jovially, into the world of Chaucer.

So has this journey been worth it? Have the vivid crimes and punishments contained within this diabolical funnel amused us or frightened us, reassured us of justice or caused us to doubt it? Pick an inner circle, and someone within it, whose sad fate stirred you the most, and say why:

24 comments:

  1. I think I would have to choose Capaneus who resides in the Seventh Circle of Hell. He has to lay upon a bank of sand with a rain of fire falling upon him for his soul to burn. Honestly who deserves to be punished with fire and burning sand? I hate stepping on hot sand at the beach I can only imagine what that would it would be like. i think that's worse than a constant sunburn.

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  2. I think circle nine, round 3 or Ptolomea is the inner circle that stirred me the most. Those who sent here are treacherous to guests and hosts. Friar Alberigo specifically, I understand that he had his brother murdered at a banquet and I think that its just for him to be frozen in the deepest level of hell with his tears freezing in his eye socket, he turned on his own family and had them killed. However, what really concerned me was his soul still being stuck on Earth and inhabited by a demon. To me this seems unjust, not because Friar Alberigo deserves to let his soul rest, but because his soul is being inhabited by a demon, which means that demon is interacting with people on Earth. I am more concerned with the fact that a justified punishment is allowing demons a place on Earth to interact with people who could end up in a level of hell for eternity because of the persuasion of the demon taking Alberigo’s form on Earth.

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  3. I personally think the pit of the Ninth Circle of hell was too harsh. Dante and Virgil come across two twin sisters, whose heads are frozen together, face to face. Dante and Virgil also come across Bocca degli Abiti. It seemed as though Dante took it very personal, and took his anger out on Bocca by tearing out some of his hair. Personally, this passage bothered me. I do believe that those who committed sins in life should pay for what they have done, but to this extent is too much. During your lifetime you should have to pay. Either you enter Hell, purgatory, or the Gates of Heaven, you should be forgiven at some point. Everyone during life or after life should own up to the sins they have done. These people in Dante's Inferno are stuck for eternity. They cannot escape from the circle of Hell they have been place in, and they can never be at peace. This is sad.

    Response done by: Jennifer Gesualdi

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  5. I think the seventh circle of hell with Capaneus stirred me the most. In the seventh circle, Dante and Virgil proceed through the forest to where the third ring of the seventh circle begins, and there they find a desert of fire hot sand, where the flakes of fire burn and fall down unendingly on those who were violent. Capaneus has to lay in hot sand while fire burns on him, which I couldn’t imagine having to go through. One of my biggest fears is being on a fire or being burned alive.
    Haley Grenier

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  6. The only amusing aspect of Dante’s Inferno is the language that Dante used to describe it. Dante’s depiction of Hell is certainly frightening and has caused me to doubt the idea of eternal punishment. I was stirred by every circle of Hell, however, I was especially stirred by the forest of the suicides. I understood that by spending eternity as trees, those sinners were being punished for wasting their bodies on earth, but using bubbling blood to speak was too gruesome for me. I was also frightened by the forest of the suicides because today, most people commit suicide because they have experienced a traumatic event or have a mental illness. I think punishing souls that were under those circumstances is unjust. In general, I think punishing any soul for eternity is unjust if they are truly sorry and if an almighty, forgiving God exists.
    Mary Beth Mennucci

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  7. In the Seventh Pouch of the Eighth Circle of Hell, where teeming masses of serpents chase after naked sinners; coiled snakes bind the sinners’ hands and legs. Dante watches a serpent catch one of the sinners and bite him between the shoulders. He watches in amazement as the soul instantly catches fire and burns up, then rises from the ashes to return to the pit of serpents.This is the Pouch in hell that Tuscan Vanni Fucci,whom Dante knew on Earth is in. This particular section of hell holds thieves. In reading this description of where Fucci is, although it is a very disturbing picture to imgaine someone being in and in my opinion a bit to much for someone who commits theft but on the other hand I do feel that a thieve is one of the worst type of people there are in this world. Someone who is a thieve can steal from not only other people but sometimes those closest to them who place there trust in them.

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  8. The second ring seventh circle is the section of hell that effected me the most. While reading this certainly impacted me because the people placed here were turned into trees in punishment of self harm. To think people would have to suffer because their decision making was off in a time of depression makes me feel upset. I also have much sympathy for trees. Considering Dante ripped a branch right off like it was nothing making a person scream saddened me.

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    1. I agree with you. It just seemed just a bit too cruel. Especially when Dante ripped off a tree branch. I mean I know it was said that these people in hell would not feel anything as much until the end when both their physical and spiritual bodies are reunited. So does that mean when the time comes, along with everything else, this poor person will feel their arm being ripped off. Despite having read the book before, it still manages to unsettle me and make me uncomfortable. But in a way I believe that is a good thing too because it is good to challenge yourself and change up your thought patterns; if that makes sense. So I believe Dante's Inferno is popular due to this reason and it's why it is still popular today.
      Kelley Jean Horrigan

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  9. Most of Dante’s Inferno is very depressing. It’s a sad, dark story. With that being said, after reading the part of the second ring in the seventh circle of hell, I became somehow, even sadder. The part of the story deals with the forest of suicide. People who were violent against themselves are then turned into trees, in Hell. Most of the time, when someone commits suicide, it’s because they just want to escape all the abuse, or suffering they were dealing with, and they felt that they had no other choice than to take their own life. So the fact that these people who took their own lives, are then sent down to hell, and then tortured just as bad, if not worse is extremely depressing. I got really mad after reading this part of the story. I don’t think anyone should have to suffer like this, whether that be in the real world, or the afterlife.
    -Cameron Evans

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  10. I feel like the sixth circle of hell touched me the most. It was the longest Dante had to endure. The six circle was for people who did God wrong. I believe their punishment was a tad bit harsh to be in a pit of fire.
    -Lina Nop

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  11. I have found this journey interesting. It is cool to read Dante’s take on Hell, I feel like because of pop culture media we often think of Hell as a firey underground cave with Satan standing in the middle with red skin, a pointy tail and a three speared staff. I find it refreshing to read that it is more detailed than that. The punishments were strange and vivid which I liked and almost all of them fit according to crime. Though I don’t think being stuck in a block of ice is worse than being cut from chin to groin by a sword. ??. Of course I have to say that Paolo and Francesca were the souls that got to me the most, it’s just something about forbidden love and “fairy tale” stories. I think it is both a blessing and a curse to be with each other for eternity, it was heart breaking as she cried while telling their story. Its horrible to think that something as powerful as love be the cause of death for these lovers and I don’t find it fair that they are condemned to Hell for it.

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  12. It has been interesting to read about Dante’s journey through hell, and how he perceives it. By the time Dante and Virgil reached the final circle, Dante began acting cruel. In this circle, many people were self-harming; eating one another’s head, biting off their own hands, and more. In a way, it was sad to read the final part of Dante’s Inferno. Not only did he become cruel, but he made his way through a circle of people who were self-harming. It was sad to read that these people were placed in hell for harming themselves, as I believe it is not something an individual has much control over, and they should not be punished by being placed in hell.
    - Rebecca Flores

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  13. The journey was very interesting. Some of the souls were extremely descriptive and thought out that it was easy to make a visual of what the circles of hell actually looked like. The last circle was very morbid and sad. The souls were in hell for self harm and they were biting themselves or hurting other souls. I personally do not think that people who commit suicide or harm themselves belong in hell and that part of the story did not sit well with me.

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  14. Even after reading through all the levels of hell and different punishments that come with each, there was one situation which caused me to wonder how just Dante's system was. In just the second circle of hell we meet Francesca and Paolo. For there crime of lust they are forever whirled in a circle as if they are in a storm. Now even though the punishment is not as severe as later ones the situation these two characters are in is what causes me to wonder if it is a just punishment. The two characters were in love and one day right before being murdered by Paolo's older brother the two lovers were overthrown with lust. Not being able to confess their sins before dying they can not go to heaven and must go to hell.

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  15. To me this book was not one that I had particularly strong feelings on reading again or never touching again in my life. It was particularly interesting to me how Dante envisions hell to be and the punishments each person in those levels receives. The ring I found the most disturbing was the suicide forest. This level stirred me the most because these people who killed themselves for whichever reason, presumably hoping for an end to suffering, are only left suffering horribly in hell. I found it interesting how thats how Dante imagines there punishment to be played out, and it just left me with a very sad feeling that these people who need love most were denied that from god and sent to hell. Katie Cunningham

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  16. to me the book this book as a whole had some graphic terminology that brought this book to life for me. yet the one place that stands out most to me was the bottom of the ninth circle, where the figure in place was Lucifer. The image of Lucifer having three heads with the worst sinners being chewed endlessly is something that stuck with me and seemed to truly catch Dante off guard and something that truly might of made an impression on him compared to the rest of what he saw.
    Tyler Thomas

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  17. I would say that this journey into hell has definitely been worth it. The vivid descriptions of the punishments have amused me in a way. I don’t believe in god, so I’m very skeptical about the fire and brimstone and the concept of an afterlife. I guess if I’m wrong I will be eternally in a fiery tomb which I’m not looking forward to but I will take my chances. To get the chance of seeing another perspective of someone who does believe in this and can describe it so passionately is interesting from my point of view.
    As far as a circle that really had me thinking was the 8th circle, specifically the 9th Bolgia with the Sowers of Discord. I guess I understand between kinsmen, the example of separating father and son is somewhat egregious and I would agree that should be punishable in some way. Perhaps not this deep in the layers of hell, but I digress. The other two categories however are a bit of a stretch and are more of a reflection of Dante’s, and perhaps Christianity’s, values rather than what an outsider might consider actual sin. As far as religious discord, it just seems that the people being punished here are those with separate religious views than Dante. As far as political discord, we live in an age with so many different political views and sides to the story that it has become apparent to many of us that one person’s hero or freedom fighter might be considered another person’s terrorist or tyrant. I imagine that with these souls, they are just people who have disagreed with Dante’s political views.

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  18. Someone I find misplaced in hell is Ulysses. He is in the 8th circle of hell in the 8th pouch. This seems surprising considering that he is a hero. The eighth circle of hell is for those guilty of spiritual theft, in which a person uses deception to gain from. The reason he is placed in hell is for the deception of the Trojan Horse. However, I feel that although he was deceitful, Ulysses was doing what he had to protect his people And ultimately win a war. His punishment is to burn in flames, not only do I think Ulysses belongs somewhere other than hell I think his overall punishment is severe.

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  19. The second ring in the seventh circle of hell stirred me the most. I don't feel people should be punished for suicide. The reason why most people kill themselves is because life on earth is unbearable for them and it would be devastating to remove yourself from this earth to ease your suffering only to be damned to hell as a tree who bleeds and suffers pain if someone breaks your branches or to see your body hung from your branches because of the decision you made on this earth. The story of Pier della Vigna was really sad and I actually felt bad that he had to eternally suffer on earth AND in the afterlife

    -Jessica Lako

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  20. After reading Dante’s Inferno I thought the story was very interesting. Most of the book was very descriptive, and explained each circle of hell well. However, at times it was a little confusing and hard to understand. In my opinion I thought that the seventh circle of hell was too harsh. The man committed suicide and was punished to spend eternity in a tree. If anything he conflicted harm onto himself and not anyone else. I do not think his punishment was fitting for what he did to get there. Often times people commit suicide because they want to escape depression or their life, and to be punished to just wanting to move on is harsh.

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  21. Going through each circle through out the novel made it very interesting. I do believe that the second circle was the most harsh punishment. Someone who is forced into marriage in the first place does not equal happiness. Not only was Francesca forced, but later on when she found happiness, she was murdered with her lover. Being stuck in the "hurricane like whirlwind" does not seem to be a fit punishment, when Francesca was already being punished enough when she was first forced in marriage.

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  22. I feel the second ring of the seventh circle was too harsh a punishment for people who have committed suicide. People who harm themselves typically don’t love themselves but have a harder time coping with that than other. I think most people on this planet would have a hard time saying they love themselves, so punishing only the people who act upon their hate seems unfair. You also can’t punish everybody for not loving themselves, hell would over flow with people. In my opinion the only thing these people could be punished for making a poor choice, but even then their punishment should not be severe and they should be given the opportunity to be forgiven and freed.

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  23. Dante is very descriptive with his story, he is trying to get us to visualize his experience. As he traveled further through the gates of hell he learned all of the rules, sins, punishments, and categories of hell. Dante is witnessing and feeling what he believed to be unrealistic. The way that he portrays hell is very gruesome. I found the Woods of Suicide in the seventh circle pretty harsh; those who had taken there own lives were turned into trees. They took their life because they felt as though they were already suffering through hell, they wanted to get to a better place with relief so to place them here and make them immobile is unfair. I thought this punishment was a bit extreme. I also did not agree with the punishment of having to cut out the blood bubbles from your skin in order to speak. Another punishment that I did not find fair was how babies who were not baptized were not given the chance of heaven, they were to stay in purgatory forever. I do not believe that infinite and external punishment for a discrete sin is fair.

    - Jennifer Praticante

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