An Eye for an Eye and a tooth for a tooth is the biblical formation. Dante creates the various levels of the Inferno in accordance to this norm. A lot of the vivid imagery and the detailed architecture of Hell that Dante conjures in his divine comedy is derived from this basic principle. The division of Hell into several segments and layers with each specializing in the punishments meted out to those who committed a particular sin is based on the symmetrical justice that God envisions for sinners. Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore: fecemi la divina podestate, la somma sapienza e ‘l primo amore.
(Dante 3. 004-006) Justice incited my sublime Creator; Created me divine Omnipotence, The highest Wisdom and the primal Love. (Longfellow. 3. 004-006) This declaration at the outset negates any form of questioning. It is as though Dante is denying any justifications for his own picture of Hell as God says that he had created hell at the behest of Justice and in the lines following these he says that there was nothing before Him as He created all this. Therefore, it is the duty of the reader to accept the depiction of Hell without too many questions about the structure or logic.
However, Dante has taken pains to device a structure for Hell which ultimately corresponds to two logical streams of justice 1. Hell works on the principle of “lex talionis” 2. The degree of retribution is decided by the gravity of sin as contradiction of God’ Will. As H. W. Longfellow writes in his Introduction to his translation of Divine Comedy. “The most important rule in the Inferno, as well as in Purgatory and Paradise, is that Dante makes the rules”(Longfellow, xxxiv) and these rules follow a high degree of symmetry as far as their violation f God’s will is concerned.
As Mark Musa points out in his introduction to Dante’s Divine Comedy, quoting Dante’s letter to Can Grande, “ If the work is to be taken allegorically, the subject is “Man- as, according to his merits or demerits in the exercise of his free will, he is subject to reward or punishment by justice…”(Musa p. 1) “This idea of punishment as a counter penalty for one’s actions is discussed by one of the victims of the most gruesome and horrifying of all of the creative punishments that Dante envisions.
Bertran de Born, one of the sowers of discord and scandal, was an advisor to a “fledgling king” and because he gave bad advice and “made the son and father enemies”, he is condemned to walk about with his head “carried by the hair just like a lantern. In a discussion with Dante at the end of Canto 28, Bertran reveals to Dante the “law of counter penalty” as the guiding principle for the punishments in The Inferno. ”(J. H) Along similar lines, the fortune tellers are violating the God’s principle of his being the ultimate creator of Time and space and the controller of all destinies.
Fortune tellers and astrologers deem to predict the will of God through their pursuits and try to subvert the universal concept of future as a mystery that forms the basis of trust in God’s ability to shape the world. Their punishment in Hell in ingenious – they are made to walk eternally backwards by having their heads fixed on their bodies in the reverse fashion. Therefore, they are denied the limited vision of their immediate future for having tried to encroach upon a divine function. Similar is the fate of the usurers (money lenders) as Pier Massimo Forni points out
“The usurer’s hope, on the other hand, is in the fruits that come from lending money. Earning from money, generating money from money, he offends (is violent against) nature and art and, indirectly, God. ” (Forni) An objective reading might throw up questions about the hierarchy of sins and the severity of the punishments. Sinners of Bribery are worse than Murderers or those who have harmed their fellow man in the hierarchy of Hell depicted by Dante. The severity, with which each of these crimes violates the eternal spirit of God, is the prime reason.
A Murderer only succumbs to his primitive instinct of violence, while Fraud and bribery are against the principle of eternal Love that God proposes to be present among human being. A fraud is the subversion of trust that forms the backdrop all love. A mutilation of such trust hits out at the foundation of the society as envisioned by God and is ultimately more gross a sin than being momentarily or deliberately slave to the violent instincts. The ultimate aim of Dante’s Inferno seems to make the statement to lead a life in compliance with God’s will.
The work does not engage in any discussion about the evil or the logic behind the punishment meted out for any of the evils because it is understood that questioning God’s design is to be blasphemous. Personal prejudices of Dante are also evident in the way he devises these punishments or places them in the order of the hierarchy. Dante, as a believer of Roman empire under Julius Cesar as the ultimate secular empire in the world places both Cassius and Brutus, who betrayed Cesar on equal footing with Judas who betrayed Jesus.
In fact, the only difference is that they are engulfed by their foot by two of Lucifer’s mouths while Judas is bitten by his head by the other head of Lucifer. It is clear from the order and form that the punishment for each sin takes that the Hell as described by Dante is the place which punishes the degree of violation of God’s will in His world. Sin is not classified by the rules of human co-existence or brotherly love but by the severity with which they strike at God’s will being implemented in His world.
Alighieri, Dante translated by H. W. LongFellow. “The Comedy”. ILT Web Digital Dante.15 May 2009. http://dante. ilt. columbia. edu/comedy/ J. H.. Dante’s Inferno Creative and Cruel. 1997. Digital Dante: Students’ Work. 15 May 2009. < http://dante. ilt. columbia. edu/papers/dicac/> Forni, Pier Massimo. Lecura Dantis: Inferno XI. Lecture given on 5 October 1988. University of Virginia. May 15 2009. http://www. brown. edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/LD/numbers/04/forni. html Alighieri, Dante. Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Inferno. Oxford: Spark educational Publishing. 2003 Alighieri, Dante. Translated by Mark Musa. The Divine Comedy: Inferno. NewYork: Penguin Classics, 2003