Dante's Inferno Questions and Answers
by Dante Alighieri

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What is the sin, according to Virgil, that God hates the most?

According to Virgil in Canto 11 of the Inferno, fraud or deceit is the sin that God hates most. Although Virgil says that malice "is the sin most hated by God," he goes on to explain that malice is done by fraud or by violence. As opposed to animals, only mankind is capable of fraud, and so God abhors this sin the most.

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In Canto 11 of the Inferno, Virgil explains to Dante some of the reasoning behind the layout of hell and, in particular, how the sins are ranked in order of iniquity. He tells Dante why even murderers and suicides are not cast down so low as the fraudulent or deceitful, since fraud is the sin most hated by God.

But since fraud
is the vice of which man alone is capable,
God loathes it most. Therefore, the fraudulent
are placed below, and their torment is more painful.

This particular abhorrence for fraud is justified by Dante's conception of divine love, which rests upon trust. The fraudulent take advantage of this divine gift and pervert it for their own ends, making them morally inferior to the violent, who merely take advantage of physical weakness. Violence reduces men to the level of animals, but fraud is lower still, since even animals are not deceitful.

The divine attitude to fraud in the Inferno means that Dante's moral judgments are often starkly different from both those of his classical predecessors (including the real Virgil) and his modern successors. One of the best examples of this is the treatment of Odysseus/Ulysses, generally regarded as a brilliant and resourceful hero by both ancient Greeks and modern readers of Homer. In the Inferno, however, he is placed low down in the Eighth Circle as a counselor of fraud, despite the fact that his deceit was employed in the service of Greece, against her enemies.

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