How does Dante present and challenge hierarchies of power in the Inferno?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Dante's Inferno is one section of his Divine Comedy, and it presents hierarchies of power in several ways. Dante presents hell as a hierarchy with nine circles or levels. The sinners with the least offensive sins are found in the highest levels, while the lowest levels—closer to Satan—are reserved for the worst sinners. The circles therefore represent a hierarchy of sins, while the punishments meted out to the sinners on each level represent the power of divine authority.

As Dante descends through the levels of hell, he witnesses the increasing power of this divine authority to serve out justice. Dante therefore presents divine power as superior to the temporal, worldly power of individuals and even empires.

Dante also comments on social hierarchies in the text. For example, on the Terrace of Envy, he suggests that envy assumes the existence of inequalities between humans.

Hierarchies of power are also challenged in the text: power, or the desire or greed for power, is largely represented as the basis for punishment in hell. The people presented as sinners are all men and women from Dante's time who held positions of prestige or power. These individuals, who would normally occupy a significant degree of power in social or economic hierarchies, are represented as having failed.

As Dante travels through the levels of hell, he also provides a commentary on political power. Each sin also has political implications, suggesting the corruption that undermines society and the respected public figures he identifies.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team