When I read The Inferno without any prior cognition of the relationship between the Greek and Roman cultures I was confused by Dante’s design of Hell.
Dante has placed the characters whose sins included lust, wrath, and violence in the upper circles of Hell; in the lower, more evil circles are sinners who lied, deceived, and committed treason. To readers of our days, such classification of evils may seem backwards, but Dante’s Hell is consistent with Roman thought..The Inferno as I said earlier has a lot of references to Greek culture ( Greek Mythology ), and in thattopic I’d like to tell you about characters whose made me think.
At the first sight, names of protectors of each circle were not so interesting for me. In my opinion, the main reason is explanationof their functions in hell: Canto 3 “All those who perish in the wrath of God Here meet together out of every land; And ready are they to pass o’er the river, Because celestial Justice spurs them on, So that their fear is turned into desire. This way there never passes a good soul; And hence if Charon doth complain of thee, Well mayst thou know now what his speech imports.”In that part of poem we recognized that Charon resolves problem of transportation.
Or: Canto5 There standeth Minos horribly, and snarls; Examines the transgressions at the entrance; Judges, and sends according as he girds him. In circle two, Minos judges the sinners and decides how they will serve one’s sentence. However, Minos as I know is a son of Zeus and Europe whom we know from Greek Mythology.
Also in Homer’s Odyssey our character plays the same role of judge in another world: “Minos, gloriousson of Zeus… holding a golden sceptre, and passing judgments on the dead, whostood and sat around the king, seeking justice, throughout the spacious gatesof Hades’ home” (Homer, 11.733-37) The Romans adopted almost the whole civilization from the Greeks, except their idea of sin. The Greeks felt that aviolent act against another human being was the worst form of evil. A goodexample is the Trojan Horse in Homer’s The Iliad. The Greeksexalted the resourcefulness and inventiveness of the Trojan Horse. The Romanidiom hated the Trojan Horse for its deceitfulness.
The Romans held deceit andtreason as the worst of all evils and felt physical violence was not as harsh.This belief could stem from the fact that the Roman Empire was so strong thatit had nothing to fear from physical violence but was always defeated bytreason and treachery.Dante believed in the Roman idea of evil, so hisstructure of Hell is consistent.
There are lesser examples of Dante’s affectionfor Roman culture, such as his spelling “Odysseus” with its Latin form, “Ulysses.”Although it may not fit contemporary views of evil, Dante’s Hell is consistentwith the Roman ideas of sin.The Renaissance or therebirth of learning, began in Italy in the fourteenth century and influencedall of Western civilization.
Wealthy families in Italy, such as the Medicis ofFlorence, were supporting financially the arts and sciences. Trade flourishedand prosperity thrived throughout much of the country.In contrast to these positive occurrences, all was notwell in Italy during the Renaissance.(With all the financial support received,one would be safe to assume that things wereall fine and dandy. But, during theRenaissance, things were a bit rough.) Rulers of the independent Italian statesoften fought with each other to establish a large political unit. The GuelphPolitical party (which favored local authority) and the Ghibelline Political party(which favored imperial authority) were two such rival factions; the two hadbeen at war periodically since the thirteenth century.Dante’s birth in 1265 came at a time when the Guelphparty, favoring local authority, was in control of Florence.
Dante turned awayfrom his Guelph heritage to embrace the imperial philosophy of the Ghibellines.His change in politics is best summed up in his treatise De Monarchia, in whichDante states his belief in the separation of church and state. The Ghibellines,however, were pushed from power by the Guelphs during Dante’s adulthood andconfined to northern Tuscany.The Guelph Political party eventually divided into twogroups: the Whites (led by the Cerchi family) and the Blacks (led by the Donatifamily and later aided by Pope Boniface VIII). Dante became a member of theWhites and served as an ambassador to talk with the Pope in Rome aboutconditions in Florence. While Dante was out of town, the Blacks took overFlorence. The Blacks sentenced Dante to banishment from the city; hispunishment for return would be death.
His wanderings gave him time to write andto study the Scriptures. This banishment also gave Dante his perspective on thecorruption of the fourteenth century papacy, a view that he would clearlydescribe in The Inferno. In the year 1310, Henry VII became Holy Roman Emperor;Dante believed that this German prince would bring peace. But Henry VII died in1313 and his Italian campaign collapsed. Dante became disillusioned and leftthe political life; he ceased work on other materials he had begun andconcentrated on The DivineComedy.