Middle Ages Lit project notes from 5

Relation to Contrapasso and Irony

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Relation to Contrapasso and Irony:

The 34th Canto of Dante’s Inferno is ironic in the sense that the last circle of hell is frozen over, due to the beating of Lucifer’s wings. When people generally think of hell, they think of great amounts of fire and torture but in the 9th circle, it is eerily quieter than other rings and also, it is frozen over. This may relate to the coldness of the souls of the worst sinners.

Contrapasso means the punishment that fits the crimes of the souls in hell, so this relates to the 9th ring of hell because the worst sinners are often traitors. Like the three greatest traitors, many of the sinners must have suicided or repented for their betrayals, but cannot be pardoned. Lucifer himself, is also an example of contrapasso, as when he was in heaven, he was a “perfect” angel that represented all the qualities of an ideal angel. Love, omnipotence, and wisdom are the three virtues of heaven and after he fell, he obtained three heads. The red one symbolized hatred, the yellow meant impotence, and the black one was ignorance. Contrapasso made Lucifer a mirror image of his previous, divine self.

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Dante’s Inferno: Canto XXIV (24) Notes

  • Dante Alighieri was an Italian poet (1265-1321). He is widely regarded as the greatest Italian writer of all time and is widely respected for his world-famous contributions to literature (Background).

  • Dante (the protagonist) is lead through the gates of Hell by his childhood friend Virgil, marked by the haunting inscription “abandon all hope, you who enter here”(III.7). We will be presenting to you Canto 24, when he is in the 8th level of Hell devoted to thieves (Background).

  • Dante and Virgil arrived in the Seventh Pouch of the Eighth Circle of Hell, devoted to thieves (Circle 8).

  • History of Time Period: Black and white guelphs were political parties that were at war in Italy during Dante’s time (Dante Background).

  • Within the text, Virgil tells of the Black Guelphs coming to power.

  • The black guelphs supported the papacy (Pope) and the white guelphs were in favor of a government free of papal influence. Dante was a member of the white guelphs (Dante Background).

  • When the black guelphs came to power, they exiled Dante (Dante Background).

  • Dante wrote The Divine Comedy during his exile, in a period between 1308 and 1321 (Background).

  • One soul in the Seventh Pouch is bitten by a serpent, dissolves into ash, and then re-forms. It turns out to be a thief named Vanni Fucci (Dante’s).

  • He is so ashamed to have Dante see him suffer in Hell that he foretells the coming victory of the Black Guelphs in Florence (Dante’s).

  • Contrapasso

    • Definition: A punishment that has the opposite consequence of what the crime was trying to achieve

    • Examples:

    • People who deceptively steal from others would be haunted by creeping serpents (XXIV,TBD).

    • Since they could not call any of the stolen property as their own, they cannot call their bodies their own (The Divine).

  • Connections to Dante’s real life/Analysis:

  • Dante seizes an opportunity to insult Florence, the city that he had been exiled from. Five of the thieves that Dante meets are Florentines and he ironically remarks to Virgil about how “great” it was to see so many of them.

  • Dante predicts a war between Florence and its rival, Prato.

  • Dante’s character sympathizes with the sinners less and less as the story progresses. This conveys the idea that the sinners deserved the punishments they received based on the sins that they committed (Inferno Canto).

  • The progression of the severity of punishments from circle to circle within Dante’s Inferno clearly demonstrates the concept of order and hierarchy within society in a religious context.

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