Dante’s ‘Inferno’ provides contrast to modern morals

By Angela Abbamonte

When I think of sins, I often classify them in a “bad to worse” spectrum. I am fully aware this is not biblical, but I cannot help but think to myself, “I know I should not have done this, but at least I am not a murderer!”

In Dante’s “Inferno” we see the poet’s idea of levels of sin in hell’s nine circles of punishment, each circle containing a different punishment for different levels of sin. For instance, according to Dante, those overcome with lust will not suffer as greatly as those who are gluttonous, but the gluttonous will not suffer as much as heretics.

In reading through the poem, I was expecting those who carried out acts of violence to be condemned to the worst punishment. In my mind it makes sense to throw violent people who cause physical harm to others into the place of highest condemnation.

Much to my surprise, the violent offenders were not placed in the deepest pit of hell — rather it was those who had betrayed a loved one.

It seems the values in society have changed dramatically since Dante sketched out his interpretation of hell.

Divorce rates are up and betrayals, no matter how great or small, are brushed off as “no big deal.” Gossip runs rampant in the dorms and across the halls and many young adults do not think it is a major concern to stab one another in the back — as long as they say it nicely and do not get caught.

The concept makes sense when looking at whom Dante placed in the deepest part of that ninth circle.

Judas Iscariot is the one “who has to suffer most,” according to Dante’s guide in hell. The disciple who used a sign of affection to betray the one who came as Messiah earned the darkest part of hell. The other two who were in the same place were Brutus and Cassius, the men who betrayed Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.

Although violence accompanied both of these betrayals, the wrongs Dante was most concerned with were acts of treachery against someone they loved.

Where does that put us? When one knowingly betrays a friend, whether it is telling one of their secrets or unashamedly stabbing them in the back, we must look at the ramifications. The betrayals of Judas, Brutus and Cassius showed selfishness and greed, underlying factors of betrayal that make oneself seem more important than friends.

In a seemingly less harmful act of betrayal, an off-handed comment can become a full-fledged rumor in the blink of an eye with today’s technology, being launched around the globe through Facebook updates and Tweets.

The simple betrayal may not have the same physical effect as literally stabbing them in the back, but one’s unfaithfulness in words or actions can have a similar effect on the relationship itself.

The poem “The Inferno” was written in the 1300s, but the comparison of priorities should make us think about what we should be concerned with in our own lives and what we should actively guard against.

It is easy to justify “small” sins, especialy in comparison to things such as murder and adultry, but anything we do, even something as small as passing on gossip, is wrong both biblically and practically.

Personal betrayal may not be a high concern to many people, but we would all benefit from making sure our words and actions would not land us in the deepest pit of Dante’s hell.

Those suffering the most in Dante’s poem betrayed someone they loved, someone who had done something for them.

In the wake of Easter many of us have spent time reflecting on Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. How much of a betrayal is it to continue knowingly to sin despite what he did for us and his commandment to “go and sin no more?”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.