In Dante's Inferno, what are the sins Dante himself committed?

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Greg Jackson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There is an interesting connection between the fate of those being punished for treason and Dante's own history of banishment and betrayal in The Inferno. Dante himself was accused of this crime and subsequently banished from Florence in 1302. This event took quite an emotional toll on the poet and heavily influenced his works. In some ways, Dante uses his allegorical journey through the afterlife to confront his own sins and shortcomings. Perhaps this is why he reserves the ninth level of the Inferno for traitors.

In canto 32 Dante meets Bocca, who is being punished for his betrayal of the Florentines years earlier. Bocca is resistant to discussing his own sin of betrayal. Dante tries to elicit a response by offering to discuss how he might have committed a similar sin. Bocca does not want to discuss his past transgressions, however, and the matter is dropped. It might be concluded that, similarly, Dante, ashamed at his own accusations of treason, did not want to get into the details of his transgression.

Some scholars have suggested that the reason Dante reserves the deepest level of the Inferno for traitors is to help deal with his own feelings of guilt over being banished from his city. Dante, both the character in the story and the poet himself, is going through a personal crisis. It has been posited that he uses his poem to confront his own personal demons in this way.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As the poem opens, Dante is at the midpoint in life, having turned thirty-five, which he understands as halfway between brith and the accepted age of death at around seventy. He feels he has lost his way, or "wandered off from the straight path."

His main sin is feeling dulled down and separated from God. He is also lackadaisical about discerning and doing God's will. He hopes to be reinvigorated and to rediscover some direction in his life.

Therefore, Dante allows Virgil to act as his guide through a tour of the underworld. Dante at this point believes in both God's will and his own free will. He learns, however, during his journey through hell that the sin of putting one's own will ahead of God's will leads to eternal suffering. He also recognizes that one can still become aware of one's sins, confess them, repent for them, and, in that way, earn God's forgiveness.

The vivid depictions of what happens to people who have lost their way and decide to live life outside of God's will without ever repenting are a wake-up call to Dante—and the reader.

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One of the "shades," later revealed to be Beatrice, first confronts Dante with his primary sin in Canto II. She tells him that his soul has been "assailed by cowardice" (line 45).

In lines 88-91, she admonishes Dante, saying, "One ought to be afraid of nothing other/than things possessed of power to do us harm,/but things innocuous need not be feared."

Still, Beatrice is not done with her chastisement, hoping that Dante will come around. In lines 121-126, she pleads with him: "What is it then? Why, why do you resist?/Why does your heart hold so much cowardice?/Where are you daring and your openness/as long as there are three such blessed women/concerned for you within the court of Heaven/and my words promise you so great a good?"

The sin, then, is storing up earthly treasures in lieu of heavenly ones, out of fear of what may become of us in the present. Cowardice, like lust, avarice, and all of the other deadly sins, will have its ultimate price.

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