Dante’s “Inferno” is one of the most famous descriptions of the hell created by Christianity. In “Inferno” Dante reveals all human sins and tries to warn people about eternal suffering in their afterlife. It is important to stress that Dante heavily relies on Christianity and regards certain activities as sinful in accordance with Christian dogmas.
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Dante mainly stresses that indulgence to physical desires often becomes a path to the depicted “Inferno”. However, it is also important to state that the same activities are not regarded similarly in different cultures. More so, Dante’s sinners could enjoy the glory of rightful people in other cultures.
Thus, when reading Dante’s “Inferno” one should remember that his hell is “designed” for those who live in western culture, but those who pertain to eastern culture can misinterpret or fail to share the same fears.
One of the deadly sins, according to Dante, is gluttony and in the Third Circle of “Inferno” “Gluttons are punished” (Clinton et al. 1230). It is necessary to add that not only those who eat too much come to this unattractive place. “Inferno” is the final stop for those who praise food and drinks too much, those who forget that food is only the way to remain strong to fulfill one’s predestination. Such people or rather “shades” are “mired in filthy muck and are eternally battered by cold and dirty hail, rain and snow” (Clinton et al. 1230).
Thus, those who paid too much attention to their physical desires and were too concerned with having pleasure should suffer also physically in “Inferno”. Their shadowy bodies are exposed to non-comfort and physical pain and this is the punishment for eating and drinking nicely with no or little attention to more important spiritual feeding, i.e. following major rules and virtues of Christianity.
Admittedly, the majority of cultures share the same principles when it deals with virtues. For instance, early Chinese poetry which is also referred to as Classic of Poetry promulgated the same virtues as Christianity did. Thus, in the poem “She Bore the Folk” Chinese promulgate eternal virtues, such as being hard-working and following the necessary rituals.
The woman who “knew the rite and sacrifice” bore a son who became the first of the great folk (Clinton et al. 691). The poem tells a story of a king who is not concern with indulgence of his physical desires, but who works in the name of good.
Another example of sharing Dante’s ideas as for virtues is Bhagavad-Gita’s sermon. Just as Dante Bhagavad-Gita states that it is essential to abandon all desires since only such people devoid of filthy longings can attain peace and wisdom (Clinton et al. 770). Admittedly, in Dante’s Third Circle of “Inferno” no person could be regarded as devoid from longings. On the contrary, “inhabitants” of the Third Circle were concerned with obtaining physical pleasures rather than clear their minds and hearts of their unworthy desires.
Assuming that gluttons are also heavy drinkers, it is possible to claim that Rumi also shared Dante’s views. At this point it is necessary to point out that Islamic tradition and Christianity are quite similar since they both are based on the same source, the Old Testament. Thus, it is but natural that Rumi and Dante view drinkers as sinners. Rumi explains his position:
“If the wine drinker
has a deep gentleness in him,
he will show that,
But if he has hidden anger and arrogance,
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and since most people do,
wine is forbidden to everyone” (Clinton et al. 1047).
Thus, Rumi states that wine reveals the true nature or spiritual world of people. However, since people are sinful wine discloses only worst characteristics of their souls. That is why drinking is prohibited. Rumi explains that sinful people have enough sin in their hearts, so they should not let their worst desires to come out.
Instead, people should try to enrich their spiritual world by more virtuous activities like praying and making good. Dante does not go into such details, he only shows the result of heavy drinking, i.e. suffering in “Inferno”. Dante reminds that every time people think of indulging their physical desires they should remember about their souls and their afterlife.
Interestingly, not all cultures (or rather not all people) share the same opinion when it deals with wine. For instance, one of the most prominent Chinese poets, Tu Fu does not regard drinking as something wrongful. Being sober or drunk is regarded as simply certain state.
Thus, according to Tu Fu when people are “still sober” they “share friendship and pleasure” but when they are drunk they simply have different experiences which is not bad (Clinton et al. 976). Of course, Dante has another point of view since he places people who are preoccupied with “sharing pleasures” into the Third Circle of “Inferno”.
Notably, apart from stating that being preoccupied with physical desires is wrongful, Dante stresses that people suffering in “Inferno” admit that those physical pleasures they had in their earthly life are not worth those hardships they have to live through in “Inferno”. Dante emphasizes “how much desiring / brought these two down into this agony” (Clinton et al. 1230). Admittedly, no physical pleasure can make agony less horrible.
It is possible to state that in the majority of human cultures spiritual life is considered to be the major goal of any person. Physical desires and earthly goods should not be indulged at the expense of spiritual purity. Dante is one of the major Western poets who promulgates these ideas and tries to explain them to people via his poetry.
Perhaps, the word “divine” is really justified since Dante reveals divine, spiritual component of people’s lives. Dante states that “Inferno” is a final stop for those who think of earthly goods only, without paying the necessary attention to spiritual, more important, part of human life.
In conclusion, it is possible to state that Dante, just as the majority of poets pertaining to different cultures, praises spiritual core in every individual. Dante draws people’s attention to the fact that they will pay for every minute of their physical pleasure which these people worship. Interestingly, some poets, like Tu Fu, do not view drinking as some sinful action, but regard it as another state which is also appropriate for humans.
However, this should be regarded as an exception which only proves the rule, people tend to believe in the same virtues which are incompatible with any abuse, be it food, wine or any other physical pleasure. Thus, Dante revealed the major believes of humanity in his epic poem which is, even now, regarded as a kind of guideline for those who want to lead virtuous life.
Clinton,Jerome W., F. Abiola Irele, Heather James. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume 1. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009.