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

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There is not an easy way to answer this question, as much would remain entirely speculative and perhaps reductive. Overall, Dante might claim that he is tempted by all of these sins and the poem (in part a dream vision in which he must journey toward salvation) is entirely about Dante and his own mind. Each of the sins in the Inferno may be a part of his moral weakness, and each are perfected on the journey through Purgatorio and Paradiso. Certainly other sins exist beyond the ones he itemizes.

At the same time, conventional understandings of the poem suggest that some sins are more immediately distressing for Dante, as indicated by how he responds to the contrapasso associated with them. In seeing their true nature in this contrapasso, he becomes more deeply affected, crying or fainting or in some other way responding to the image presented.

For instance, in Canto 5: The Lustful, Dante sees an image of unrooted passion or eros and hears of Franseca's story of reading leading to sin. Prior to the Commedia, Dante wrote love poems and he may imagine his own work leading others to Fransesca's fate. The suicides seem to affect Dante deeply as well, and the opening canto seems to speak of a despair that tempted suicide, particularly as he looks back an averted danger that terrifies him as the ocean would one who barely escaped drowning. Similarly, he was accused of Barratry when he was exiled from Florence, and this seems to be an unusual pair of cantos, as if Dante is thumbing his nose at this accusers. Dante is also meditating on the role his poetry might play in leading him and others to salvation as well as fame. In this sense, his encounter with his former teacher in the sodomite canto and Ugolino in the penultimate canto suggest a difficulty in writing with a restorative purpose, rather than for merely fame or for merely revenge.

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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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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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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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