Dante’s Inferno: A Halloween Perspective

A post on Deviant Art, What’s the Worst that could Happen, got me thinking Dante’s Inferno again.

English: Dante Alighieri's portrait by Sandro ...

Sometimes in youth we play crazy mind games. One gruesome game was trying to think of the worst way to die. Or even better, the “which would you choose” version of the same conceit. Another was what would be the worst torture to endure. If there is one international touchstone that best captures youthful fears and wonders in speculation of what lies beyond the veil of death and awaits as possible punishment for our sins, it must be – to the few who have actually read it to the millions who “know” it – “Dante’s Inferno.” Who does not shiver at the thought of being lost somewhere in the “Nine Rings of Hell?”

When I reviewed Dante’s Inferno I know I was being quite harsh. For a book to be so historically renowned you would think it wouldn’t be so dreadfully hard to get through. But I think I took for granted the themes. In our normal living we see so much blood on TV that the things Dante describes weren’t very moving. So, I have been thinking for a while, how do you change your perspective to fully understand where Dante was coming from? How do you understand the appalling ideas as they were then? The very idea that a man was able to condemn so many, at least figuratively?

We have to sit back and realize the people he is talking about are long dead, unless they are zombies, which is another whole matter entirely! He had so much pent up aggression towards those that wronged him that he literally damned them to his version of Hell. How much do you have to hate a person to damn them to Hell forever? The post on Deviant Art got me working on not only my questions but also theirs.

Through me the way into the suffering city,
Through me the way to the eternal pain,
Through me the way that runs among the lost.
Justice urged on my high artificer;
My maker was divine authority,
The highest wisdom, and the primal love.

Before me nothing but eternal things were made,
And I endure eternally.
Abandon every hope, ye who enter here.”

Let us first take a look at the layers of Dante’s hell and what they mean:

A diagram of Dante's Hell from The Divine Comedy.

Seems rather harsh, does it not?!! I mean in today’s society we’ve all done something in some of these layers… had our palms read for fun, lied to a friend, whether for good or bad does not matter! Didn’t give to the poor, etc. The one that gets me the most is being dreary. Who knew it was a sin to be depressed! Apparently Dante does.

Now that we’re all hopefully in the right frame of mind, let’s move onto the questions in the post from Techgnotic:

  1. Does the artistic exploration of theological subjects make you in any way nervous, especially in a time when the very act of depicting one religion’s god and messenger can have such great impact?
  2. Does Dante’s attempt to match appropriate crimes with appropriate punishments make sense – or does the concept eternal damnation in torment ruin his otherwise equitable distribution of justice?
  3. What are an artist’s responsibilities when depicting subjects sacred to some who will be seeing the resulting artwork?  Is caring for even a moment about possible repercussions a form of censorship and repression against art and the artist?
  4. Do you think it’s fair that remembering to pray at the last moment gets you a Get Out of Hell Free pass?
  5. Are you currently living in one of the nine rings of hell right now? What is happening there?

My answers:

Pier della Vigna Forest of Suicides, INFERNO C...

Pier della Vigna Forest of Suicides, INFERNO Canto 13 (Photo credit: tutincommon)

I know that if I were to live in Dante’s world I would be burned at the stake. There’s no question about it. My beliefs are so off the map that I would be a heretic without question. Although my beliefs are because of my upbringing, my studies and the friends that have encouraged me along the way, they are still there. Would I be the same person hundreds of years ago?

I think Dante tends to show just how frustrated and angry HE truly is. Amazingly enough that is enough on the list of sins however he uses this anger in such a mischievous way to never be thought of as a hateful person. Looking at this and living in today’s world I think the list is ridiculous! As a matter of fact I am quite curious what Dante would say about sin today and where he would lie the appropriate judgements.

As an artist I think people have a responsibility to the picture they see in their head. If they are truly moved by a particular piece it will show and it will come through without words! But the responsibility should be on whether the artist enjoys the picture first and foremost! Otherwise why paint, draw, etc?

Ahhh a pivotal question! I don’t think anything is fair. I think we need to make our own judgements. As I said before my beliefs are quite strange however I do believe if we can pass every person that needs more than we do without feeling an iota of empathy? I think that is just plain cruel. Not being able to do something is one thing, ignoring everyone else is quite another! (ok, off of my soap box!)

Hahah!!! I actually would love to ask this myself… I live in a fabulous place in my heart, mind and spirit.

What do you guys think of Dante’s layers in today’s world? Just right or not so much? Do you think this has stood the test of time as many scholars seem to believe?


  1. […] Dante’s Inferno – A Halloween Perspective […]

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