Dante's Sense Of Irony Essay

1413 words - 6 pages

In the Inferno we follow the journey of Dante as he wanders off the path of moral truth and into Hell. The Virgin Mary and Santa Lucia ask Beatrice, Dante’s deceased love, to send some help. Thus, Virgil comes to the rescue and essentially guides Dante through Hell and back to the mortal world from which he came. However, things begin to seem kind of odd. When reading the Inferno one may begin to question the way Dante describes Hell and the things that occur within, or even the things we have always believed about Hell. Despite the way it is described and well known in western civilization, Hell is not at all how we expect it to be because of Dante's use of irony throughout this poetic masterpiece.
The first thing you would notice is the overall irony of Hell itself. As mentioned, most people have a view that Hell is very chaotic and in disarray. However, In Canto IV we find out that Hell is actually very organized. The structure of it is in fact “a great funnel-shaped cave… with its bottom point at the Earth’s center. Around this great circular depression runs a series of ledges, each of which Dante calls a CIRCLE.” (Alighieri 25). Most pictures you see of hell show images of very distressed people and demons running around in turmoil. They are usually all over the place and no sense of organization is apparent. There is also a map of hell that Dante has drawn in order to give us a clearer image of what Hell supposedly looks like (Alighieri 26). Through this we find that Dante has applied his use irony into the very structure of Hell. We also see that the people we thought were myths actually exist – in Dante’s eyes. Scattered throughout the book, we see several mythological characters that have indeed descended into Hell. One of the first characters we encounter is Charon, “the son of Erebus and Nyx, whose duty it was to ferry over the Rivers Styx and Acheron those souls of the deceased who had received the rites of burial.” ("Charon (Greek Mythology)"), who indeed carries Dante and Virgil across Acheron while Dante is passed out. When they reach Limbo, the first circle of Hell, Dante begins to name off some more Greek mythology characters: “…among whom I saw Hector and Aneneas and Ceasar in armor with his falcon’s eye.” (Alighieri. Canto IV. Lines 122-123). The presence of these characters help give us an understanding towards the setup of these “circles” and which sins you must commit in order to end up there. However, it gets us by surprise because we are not expecting these characters, which are not actually believed in, to be in a place most people actually do believe in. Analyzing this novel more deeply, we find that yet another ironic usage within.
Contrapasso is punishment that fits the crime. In the Inferno, sinners are punished in a way that somehow reflects what they did wrong on earth. Sometimes the contrapasso is extremely similar, but sometimes it is the opposite - a mirror image. For example, circle five is where the...

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