Discuss the thematic and dramatic use of hypocrisy, greed and lust by Dante. What do you conclude about important similarities or differences? Thank you.
Dante's Inferno paints a dreadful picture of the tortured suffering of those souls damned to eternal punishment, but they are all (to medieval eyes) there for the same reason - they were sinners. They may not have looked like sinners at the time they were alive (some even being Cardinals, Bishops or seemingly upstanding citizens practising in the government or the law) but God could see into their hearts all the same, and he could see their hypocrisy in the sinful double lives they led.
The Catholic church had a ‘zero tolerance’ attitude to sin on the surface, but it soon became clear that that even it’s own officers were less than perfect. In the 6th Century AD, its leader ( Pope Gregory) made a list of the worst sins, as if to clarify things. These were lustful or self-indulgent living, sloth or laziness, gluttony, anger, greed, envy and pride. These dreadful character traits were given the name of the seven deadly sins. There were also seven virtues of holiness listed as temperance, chastity, patience, abstinence, diligence humility and kindness. Christian teaching classed the first list as vices. The sinners that Dante meets in the tortuous Inferno are each given a punishment in accordance with the sin they were found guilty of.
Lust was bad because it meant God was always put before others, for example the desired love object. Gluttony is bad because greedy devotion to self deprives others and makes the sinner live a life devoid of spirituality and love for others. Greed for material possessions leads to blind ignorance of the grace and love of God because chasing material wealth to show off distracts the sinner from his path towards God. Sloth is bad because it means the sinner did not try hard enough to find God and travel a hardworking path towards him, allowing apathy or even depression to get in the way, leaving the door open to that dreaded vice despair and suggesting a lack of hope in the powers of the Holy Spirit to bring grace. Anger will be punished too because it is blinding - a passion which overtakes and obstructs the sinner’s view of his path towards a spiritual life and path towards God and heaven. Envy was punished because it led to small-minded meanness of spirit where a sinner coveted another’s gifts instead of sharing his happiness in them and being joyful, leading to a dissatisfaction with his own lot and even with God himself. Pride was the most serious sin because it had such an impact on all the others, an arrogance and unwillingness to admit to being wrong or that there might be another path. It was the devil’s sin, and also that of his dramatic literature portrayals (Dante, Faust etc) where he thought to better God. The sin of hypocrisy occurs where any of the others is belied by a seemingly inoffensive persona and upstanding community presence.