The Divine Comedy Questions and Answers
by Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What is the logical relationship between the vice of lust and its punishment in Dante's hell in The Divine Comedy?

Expert Answers info

Adah Rubens eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write626 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Inferno is the first part of the popular fourteenth-century epic poem The Divine Comedy written by famed poet Dante Alighieri. In it, Dante travels through Hell, alongside his trusted friend, guide, and companion, Virgil. Dante explains that there are Nine Circles of Hell, in which all of the sinners of the world are forced to face their punishment for their unholy deeds. According to him, the Second Circle of Hell is reserved for the lustful, or "carnal melefactors," and "the carnal sinners who subordinate reason to desire." Here, Dante sees some of the most famous lovers in history like Cleopatra, Tristan, Dido, Achilles, and many more. He also meets Francesca da Rimini, who married a physically deformed politician named Giovanni Malatesta but fell in love with his brother Paolo Malatesta instead. The two were caught and killed by Giovanni, and their souls were sent to Hell. By explaining their tragic story, Dante tells us that the punishment for those who were consumed by impure and lustful thoughts and acted upon them was eternal winds.

As the lovers drifted into self-indulgence and were carried away by their passions, so now they drift for ever. The bright, voluptuous sin is now seen as it is—a howling darkness of helpless discomfort.

This is actually a rather symbolic punishment; the souls were swayed left and right by powerful, strong winds for eternity, just like how they allowed to be "swayed by lust" while they were alive. Essentially, this is the logical relationship between the vice of lust and its punishment. Just as the winds are never consistent or predictable, so the sinners are restless, and they are never able to settle down; they often change their lovers or engage in adulterous affairs, just like the winds often change direction.

It's noteworthy to mention that Dante places those who were blinded by the sin of lust the furthest from Satan, which means that he didn't consider lust to be the most unforgivable sin of all; in fact, he feels pity for the sinners because they are not really self-centered and malicious, as most of them (aside form the rapists) loved and cared for their partners and lovers and had no ill intentions towards them; they simply enjoyed the pleasures of the body. However, he also makes lust the first punishable sin in Hell, which is a direct reference to the first, original sin in the Bible—the sexual relationship between Adam and Eve.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial