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Justice in Dante's Inferno: Theme & Quotes

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Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Justice in Dante Alighieri's Inferno is an important theme as Dante goes into hell and witnesses the sinners being punished based on crimes committed in life. In this lesson, we will earn about justice as a theme. Updated: 06/19/2022

Justice in Dante's Inferno

Dante journeys deep into the nine circles of hell with Virgil as his guide in Inferno, the first book of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy. Justice is a central theme in the book, which makes sense because hell is where sinners go to pay for those crimes committed in life. In Dante's version of hell, nine circles of hell exist, with each circle being reserved for a certain category of crime. As Dante ventures into hell, we learn that justice is about paying the price for committing sin, and that each sinner gets a punishment based on the sin committed. For example, a murderer may have to suffer in hell by being murdered over and over again in hell. Justice is about restoring balance. In this lesson, we will learn about justice as a theme in Inferno by going over several quotes.

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  • 0:04 Justice in Dante's ''Inferno''
  • 0:54 Sin in Life &…
  • 2:31 Punished by the Same Sin
  • 3:02 Justice Is Painful
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Sin in Life & Punishment in Death

Dante talks a lot about contrapasso, which translates to ''counter-penalty.'' The idea is that every crime must be paid for with a fee or penalty. Pier della Vigna was a poet who committed suicide in 1249 after being imprisoned for something he didn't do. His death was gruesome; his eyes were ripped out by prison guards, and afterwards, he slammed his head against the cell wall until he died. Dante and Virgil meet Pier della Vigna in the seventh circle of hell where violent offenders are condemned for eternity. When Dante comes upon him, he learns that people who committed suicide are punished by being stuck in one place forever as a plant.

Pier della Vigna tells Dante, ''When the savage spirit quits/the body from which it has torn itself,/then Minos sends it to the seventh maw/. . . It rises as a sapling, a wild plant;/and then the Harpies, feeding on its leaves,/cause pain and for that pain provide a vent./Like other souls, we shall seek out the flesh/ that we have left, but none of us shall wear it;/it's not right for any man to have/what he himself has cast aside. We'll drag/our bodies here, they'll hang in this sad wood,/each on the stump of its vindictive shade.''

Sadly, for people who commit suicide, justice is served by planting them in one spot forever, and when God reunites them with their bodies, he puts them where they can be seen but never reached. This is the punishment for not taking care of the body in life. Justice is served by restoring balance; it possesses an ''eye for an eye'' mentality.

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