Comparison Of Dante
’s Inferno And Purgatorio Essay, Research Paper
The Comparison Of Dante’s Inferno and the Purgatorio
March 25, 2001
There are many differences in the Inferno and the Purgatorio of Dante Alghieri,
from the differences in atmosphere and attitude, darkness and light, between sins and their punishments as well as the characters of the Comedy. My purpose is to shed light on what I found to be interesting differences of the two.
I would like to begin with the comparison of the coming of the old men in both the Inferno and the Purgatorio. In the Inferno it starts by saying:
And Lo! Coming toward us in a boat, an old man, white with ancient hair, crying, woe to you wicked souls! Hope not ever to see Heaven! I come to carry you to the other bank, into eternal darkness, to heat and frost.
Further, in the Purgatorio it starts out as:
I saw to me an old man alone, worthy in look of so much reverence that no son owes more unto his father. He wore a long beard and mingled with white hair, like his locks, of which a double list fell upon his breast.
In this depiction of the old men we can see the paths they have chosen, and for their choices they have been assigned their duties. The other similarity of these men is that we can find them placed in the story before Dante reaches Limbo, the first circle of Hell, and before he is able to enter into the Ante-Purgatory, or Limba in Purgatory.
With the idea of the coming of the boats fresh in our minds, we can also see a distinct difference in the atmosphere in both areas. First in the Inferno we get the description of the atmosphere in these lines:
But those souls, who were weary and naked, changed color, and gnashed their teeth. They blasphemed God and their parents, the human race, the place, the time and the seed of their sowing and of their birth.
Where as in the Purgatorio the attitude follows:
Mind, mind, thou bend thy knees. Lo! The Angel of God: fold thy hands; henceforth shalt thou see such officials. See how he scorns human means, so that he wills not oar, of other sail other than his own wings between distance shores. See, how he holds them straight towards Heaven, stroking the air with his eternal feathers that are not changed like mortal hair.
It gives a clear distinction of the attitude of the two places, on one hand you have people cursing everything in their human life, and on the other you have a divine reverence portrayed by all individuals. The souls in hell have no hope of ever seeing the face of God or to ever be in his glory. The souls in Purgatory have hope, and some day will be joined with the holiest of holies. Here all people are Christians and believe in God, their suffering has meaning and impact on their eventual outcome into Heaven. In Hell, the inhabitants are eager to justify themselves and are anxious to make an individual impression, and all souls are dammed to aimlessly wander in the sin they held on to while living on earth, there is no consolation for the repeating of their punishment. Which brings me to one of the most interesting aspects of this novel, the contrapasso.
It is ire to see what may lie ahead for some sins and sinners. In the example of Paolo and Francesca, their sin was their lust. They wanted to be with each other in a sexual nature, even though it was forbidden. Their punishment is the mirrored image of their sin on earth–the same basic concept, but the exact opposite. In hell they are stuck together in the most intimate of positions, doomed to remain in that sexual position for all eternity, without rest or satisfaction. In Purgatory we get a much different view of the evolution of the soul. It is portrayed that all the individuals there are worms waiting to form angelic butterflies. The souls here are in a constant reformation, where as in hell the souls are stagnant. While on this subject of the contrapasso, I found Satan’s to be the most fitting. Satan was at one point a majestic angel representing all of heaven’s cardinal virtues: Love, Divine Omnipotence, and Wisdom. Now in the core of the earth he finds himself mirroring that image of his former self. Now with a furry, frozen body with scales instead of wings, he also has three heads: one red (Hatred), one yellow (Impotence), and black (Ignorance) to contrast the three highest virtues of heaven.
In the beginning of the Inferno we see Dante faced by three animals, the leopard, lion, and the she-wolf. These three beasts correspond to the triple division of sins into those of incontinence, of violence, and of fraud. When he enters into Purgatory he sees the rays of four holy stars. These stars are the symbols of the four Cardinal Virtues, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice.
While Dante is in hell he gives us such a distinct picture in our imaginations of what the souls are like, in these lines he speaks of the taking of the souls across the first river of hell:
Then, bitterly weeping, they drew back all of them together to the evil bank, that waits for every man who fears not God. Charon the demon, with eyes of glowing coal, beckoning them, collects them all; he beats with his oar whoever lingers.
In the Purgatorio, however, we see the poets on the shore, the coming of the boat, guided by an angel, bearing the souls to purgatory. We hear songs of glory and praise by Casella and the souls are rushed to make it up the mountain.
Moving from the Inferno to the opening of the celestial Purgatory is one of the most dramatic scenes in the whole Comedy. The impact of the passage is joyous with the comfort of light after darkness. In the last stages Dante was only able to see as though in a heavy fog, as is for most of the Inferno. With the coming of dawn in Purgatory, the heavens are aglow with promise. Along with the light being a major difference, time is also an issue. In hell there is no concept of time, so to say, except for eternity. But in Purgatory, time is like that of earthly time, in that there is night and day with the sun and stars. Work during the day climbing to the top of the mountain and resting by night.
In all, the coming into light from the darkness, the turning upside down in passing Satan, and the first sight of the mountain is the most distinct image that impacted me. Along with this, in the Inferno, the top of hell consisted of souls in limbo, then into more serious sins, all the way down to the traitors were Satan himself dwells. It continually gets more serious. In Purgatory, the climb is aggressive and difficult in the beginning, working your way up the mountain you find the journey gradually getting easier. This depiction of what the whole scheme of things was a completely forging idea, but makes sense. After leaving Satan and Hell we find that some of the sins that are punished in hell are also punished in the first stages of Purgatory. The difference in why some individuals made it and others didn’t is all in the repentance and recognition of God in their lives. This is the basic message I got from these books, when in fact we all stray from the narrow path, we must never hesitate to seek forgiveness and to inline our lives with the ways of God, for we know not the day nor the hour when our souls will be called to the next life.