Dante’s Inferno: Contrapasso
Expect No Mercy What goes around comes around. When sinners reach hell they are forced to experience the counter-suffering of contrapasso. For each sin, Dante gives a specific punishment relating to that sin.
Some of these sins include violence towards self, violence towards God, sorcery, and hypocrisy. For the despicable lives they lived on earth, they are doomed to suffer relating consequences for all of eternity. “No green leaves, but rather black in color, no smooth branches, but twisted and entangled, no fruit, but thorns of poison bloomed instead. (XIII, 4) No longer humans, but trees, they stand in a fruitless wood, being eaten by half-woman, half-bird creatures called Harpies. These sinners have committed Violence against themselves. They destroyed their bodies on earth so they have been denied any resemblance to a body in hell. Harpies are perched on them, eating their leaves as they scream in pain. When leaves or branches are ripped from them, they bleed and feel as though limbs are being torn from their bodies.
Their wounds heal so as to reoccur, making it so the harpies may eat them eternally. This is not a reasonable form of justice, as once thought in Dante’s time. The Christian church has changed its opinions on suicide since the publishing of Dante’s work. Once not even awarded a Christian burial, people who commit suicide are now considered not in the right state of mind. Since they have suffered in life, they should not be forced to suffer for eternity in death. Despite the undeserving sufferers previously noted, many of the people found in hell deserve to be there.
The blasphemers have committed the sin of violence against God. They have either cursed God or offended God directly during their lifetimes. These sinners lay on their backs in burning sand staring up at the skies as fiery flakes rain down on them. They committed sins against God, therefore they shall spend eternity staring up at him and accepting his wrath. Violence is horrid and the punishments in hell show how it can come back to you in death. But even deeper into hell the sins get worse, as do the punishments. There are things that people are not supposed to see during their lives on earth.
The future is one of these things. The first sinners found in the eighth circle of hell attempted to see the future using forbidden means such as black magic. The punishment that these fortune tellers are forced to endure is they walk around forever with their heads twisted facing backwards, only able to look behind them. Their eyes are filled with tears so anything that they could see is completely blurred. “You see how he has made his back his chest: because he wished to see too far ahead, he sees behind and walks a backward track. (XX, 37) These punishments are perfectly fitting to the sins they have committed. These so-called sorcerers spent their lives in the twisted world of magic, so it is only fitting that they are twisted themselves in hell. This is the torture that awaits them in hell, and they’ve earned every bit of it. Deeper into hell there are sinners who twisted the truth, this is where the hypocrites are found. They deceived people during their lives by pretending to have beliefs or virtues that appealed to others.
Now they slowly trod around wearing cloaks that look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside they are lined with heavy lead, that weighs the sinners down. “’The orange-gilded cloaks are thick with lead so heavy that it makes us, who are the scales it hangs on, creak as we walk. ’” (XXIII, 100) Since they hid their true selves in life they must walk forever, hiding the weight of their deceit which they must carry for all of eternity. If they stop walking, the lead gets hotter and hotter until they start moving again.
Being eaten for all of eternity, staring into the skies as fiery flakes rain down, heads twisted on backwards and hidden weight that must be carried forever are some of the punishments in hell that await sinners. These specific punishments relate or contrast to the sins of those who suffer them. Contrapasso is the passing of just punishment for sins, and punishments that relate to the sins are the most fitting. For the damage they have done on earth, these offenders are fated to suffer the abuse they have earned themselves in hell.