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Dante's Transformation in The Inferno Essay


During Dantes journey the way he interacts with the sinners in hell changes dramatically from the beginning of the poem to the end. At first Dante acts like a coward and hides behind his guide Virgil, or faints. As he continues deeper into hell he grows to understand why such horrific punishments are inflicted on the sinners and doesnt find them so disturbing. The difference in the way Dante interacts with Francesca in the beginning and Cassius in the end of the poem show how this growth the best.

Dante first sees sinners actually being tortured in the second circle of hell, Limbo. While in Limbo the sinners were still virtuous so they were not punished so severely. When he sees the whirlwind of bodies and hears the pain and agony he is dumbfounded. He speaks to his contemporary Francesca and she explains that her lust was her downfall. Her whirlwind of passion got her into this literal whirlwind in hell. Like most other sinners in hell she does not blame herself for her actions but instead says it was the story of Lancelot that made her commit adultery with her lover Paolo. We were reading one day, for pleasure, of Lancelot, how Love beset him; we were alone and without any suspicion. Many times reading drove our eyes together and turned our faces pale; but one point alone was the one that overpowered us (V, 127-32). While Virgil stands between the two and tries to reason with Dante and tell him that she brought this fate upon herself. Dante does not yet understand how this punishment fits her crime. When Dante first hears Francesca, he cannot believe that one should endure so much suffering for something they could not control. This horrifies Dante so that he loses consciousness and faints. This weakness for the sight of suffering shows how Dante begins his journey as a fragile man, not prepared for the horrors of the inferno.

Dantes attitude shifts as he continues his journey through hell at a very slow pace. He still continues to faint through much of the first half of the poem and cannot believe that such suffering is deserved. As he goes deeper and deeper he soon begins to see how all of the sinners punishments tie in with their sins. Virgil, representing human reason, slowly moves Dante to a mindset of understanding and away from his fearful and cowardly tendencies. He even shows anger towards some of the sinners and finds delight in their suffering, this is usually only towards people he knew and disliked in his worldly life. Towards the end of the poem Dante shows little remorse for those in hell and discontinues his constant fainting and instead tries to learn from each of the sinners.

His full growth is shown when he reaches the very bottom of hell and steps into the inner most ring of the third circle, Judecca. When he sees Satan who is described as the most terrifying site in all of hell If he was as beautiful then as now he is ugly, when he lifted his brow against his Maker, well must all grieving proceed from him

(XXXIV, 34-6), he does not faint and only shows a small amount of fear. He sees Cassius being constantly chewed by one of Satans three heads. The tearing of flesh and bones and piercing cries of Cassius would have easily caused Dante to faint at the beginning of the poem but his knowledge gained from Virgil and his journey keep him from doing this. Dante has come to a state of enlightenment and feels no remorse for Cassius and has a full understanding of how Cassius deserves this punishment.

At the start of the poem Dante was a cowardly little Florentine to a man who could not stay conscious when faced with a whirlwind of bodies. His journey changes him into a man, able to stand face to face with Satan himself. This shows how his journey finally completed and also how human reason shows an everyday man that living a virtuous life will not only make normal life more pleasurable, but the afterlife as well.

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