Why does Dante encase Satan in ice instead of lava in Dante's Inferno? What's the symbolism?

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Dante has chosen to encase Satan in ice instead of a lake of lava because it represents an appropriate punishment. Satan is the ultimate betrayer, the one who turned on God, and as such, his appropriate punishment is to be the farthest possible from God's light and warmth. Additionally, the flapping of his wings keeps the ice frozen, trapping and rendering Satan powerless to escape.

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When Dante and Virgil arrive in Judecca, they find a frozen wasteland filled with freezing winds caused by the flapping of Satan's wings. This is different from our typical conception of hell as a hot, fiery place or of the lake of lava or fire. The lake of lava is where Satan is imprisoned at the start of Milton's Paradise Lost.

Satan lives in a frozen world because his soul is frozen and loveless. The worst sin in Inferno is deception or lying, and Satan is the Prince of Lies. Deception is ice cold because it is premeditated and calculated. It is why, for example, a person who kills several people in the heat of anger is punished less severely in Dante's hell than someone who cold-bloodedly defrauds someone of money. Sins of passion at least show warmth and emotion, even if twisted and misplaced.

The worst kind of deception and cold heartedness is to betray a benefactor, which is why the three figures endlessly chewed in the three-headed Satan's mouths are Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. Judas betrayed Christ, while Brutus and Cassius betrayed Caesar. Satan betrayed and turned on God, the ultimate cold-blooded sin.

Dante uses contrapasso, which is the idea that the punishment fits the crime. Satan's cold environs reflect his utter cold-heartedness in turning lovelessly on God, the creator of all things, the ultimate provider of all bounty.

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The Satan with whom we are presented in Dante's Inferno really couldn't be more different from that given to us by Milton in Paradise Lost. Whereas Milton's Satan is cunning, clever, perhaps even a tad sympathetic, Dante's creation is a hideous, flailing, three-head monster, trapped forever in a frozen lake.

Although the Satan of the Inferno is a truly hideous-looking creature, he's also a ridiculous figure, lacking the recognizably human characteristics that make Milton's Satan such a formidable opponent. Trapped as he is in a frozen lake, Dante's Satan is effectively impotent, unable to move properly, let alone attack anyone or anything, no matter how fearsome he looks.

What we see here is a prime example of contrapasso, an important concept in Inferno and which roughly means the punishment fitting the crime. Satan thought he was better than God and wanted to usurp him. However, his bid for power was thwarted, and now, in a case of poetic justice, Satan has no power at all, not even the power to move properly, let alone escape.

Satan, as Dante depicts him, is no better than the other sinners in this part of hell. He thought he was bigger and better than God, but in actual fact, he's just a common sinner like all the others.

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One of the most impressive elements about Dante's Inferno is his configuration of the inner- most regions of Hell.  Dante clearly recognizes that there are two types of anger.  The first type is the traditional depiction of the Satanic domain.  This anger is fiery, involving demoniac laughter and yelling.  One can imagine that the searing heat from the underworld is almost an emotional expression.  It is within this that the critical element of this depiction lies for there is emotion and personal articulation.  Dante's configuration of the hell of Satan as ice reflects another and different conception of anger.  This vision is one precisely where there is no emotional contact.  This anger is one of silence, frigidity, and emotional separation.  When parents yell at kids, at least one knows that there is caring evident.  When parents go silent and effectively say, "I don't want to talk to you," the child knows that a major transgression has been committed.  It is in this light where Dante's conception of the coldness and frigidity of hell acquires a great deal of emotional meaning.

Dante's depiction of ice throughout the ninth level of hell reflects how the people in it have severed bonds and connections to others.  Dante depicts characters who have betrayed one another in the emotional realm, individuals who have betrayed nations and political allegiances, and traitors to the divine.  Placing each of these regions in ice helps to enhance the frigidity with which they appropriated their time as a human being. Dante wishes to depict Satan immersed in ice, what is called, "straw in glass," to reflect the transgression of denying human connection.  Dante believes that the sinners in the ninth circle have committed the greatest of offenses.  They forsake the larger bonds that existed between themselves and something larger.  Depicting Satan as the crown prince of this world helps to develop the idea that the true sin of the devil in its repudiation of something larger than himself.  "The banners of the King of Hell go forth" in a block of ice, frozen in self- indulgence, cut off from absolution and from all others because they, themselves, have cut themselves off from others with their acts of betrayal.  It is for this reason that Dante wishes for a force "To shield me from the wind," reflecting how he does not wish to succumb to the emotional frigidity of the region.

The symbolic use of ice to encase Satan reflects the true level of sin from which humans must flee. Dante uses ice as something devoid of human emotion and connection.  The "heavy substance" used to encase Satan is reflective of the transgressions of the entire circle.  For Dante, betrayal of bond and the sin of being a traitor is calculated, premeditated, and precise.  Unlike some of the other transgressions seen, it is not something that "just happens."  The people in this circle planned out their deceptions of others, similar to Cain, embodied in the name of the first region, "Caina."  Judas, whose name is seen in "Judecca," is someone that Dante sees as deliberately betraying the son of God.  Such a level of betrayal, complete with Satan at its center represents a domain of severed bonds and forgoing human connection.  For Dante, the symbolic representation of ice in this world reflects the cold and detached nature of the transgressions committed.  The icy frigidity of hell is contrasted with the warmth of redemption present in Beatrice and paradiso.

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