Throughout to achieve morality and find unity
Throughout the fast-paced lives of people, we are constantly making choices that shape who we are, as well as the world around us; however, one often debates the manner in which one should come to correct moral decisions, and achieve a virtuous existence. Dante has an uncanny ability to represent with such precision, the trials of the everyman’s soul to achieve morality and find unity with God, while setting forth the beauty, humor, and horror of human life. Dante immediately links his own personal experience to that of all of humanity, as he proclaims, “Midway along the journey of our life / I woke to find myself in a dark wood, / for I had wandered off from the straight path” (I.1-3). The dark wood is the sinful life on earth, and the straight path is that of the virtuous life that leads to God.
Dante’s everyman, pilgrim character represents all of humanity, and endures much adversity and temptation through squalid conditions in a nightmarish vision of hell, in his search to find the soul’s true path in life. While he stands in peril, Dante wishes that each individual would put themselves in the same position as the aforementioned, as all of mankind knows some form of sin, and also wanders lost in a dark wood. Before achieving moral redemption, an individual must take a hard look at evil both in the world and in himself. Only by confronting inner evil can people achieve self-knowledge, which is the first step toward redemption.Dante feels hell is a necessary, painful first step in any man’s spiritual journey, and the path to the blessed after-life awaits anyone who seeks to find it, and through a screen of perseverance, one will find the face of God. Nonetheless, Dante aspires to heaven in an optimistic process, to find salvation in God, despite the merciless torture chamber he has to travel through.
As Dante attempts to find God in his life, those sentenced to punishment in hell hinder him from the true path, as the city of hell in Inferno represents the negative consequences of sinful actions and desires. Though the punishments invariably fit the crimes of the sinners and retributive justice reigns, the palpable emphasis of fear and pity that Dante imbues on the transgressors illustrates his human tendency to feel sympathy towards one who is suffering. For example, when Dante approaches the gates of hell and reads the inscription above the gate, he admits that “.
. . these words I see are cruel” (III.12), and on more than one occasion, faints and cries. However, the illusiveness of the idea of Dante feeling pity toward the transgressors is delineated as Dante proceeds into the more brutal levels of hell. Virgil must remind Dante that “In this place piety lives when pity is dead / for who could be more wicked than that man / who tries to bend divine will to his own” (XX.
28). As the magnitude of the sins increase, Dante condemns the sinners, and the pity he feels for them lessens. Virgil suggests with no demur, that sin should be despised wholeheartedly, and one should not pity the justice meted out to sinners. To pity their suffering demonstrates a lack of understanding. Dante tries to attain the capacity to transcend his own limitations and reach a new level of self-knowledge, as he has gone astray from the right path to God. This moral journey through foul darkness opens Dante’s eyes to how evil works in our lives and helps him to begin to understand what is truly good.
The notions of sin and falsity verses truth and virtue are barefaced and transparent. Naturally, anyone is fully capable of discerning right from wrong and knows what is morally right, but faces his greatest problem in willing to do so. A major struggle in the poem is that of one’s obedience to God’s will. God’s will is universal and supremely powerful.
Humankind, by exercising free will, will fashion either a rewarding or punishing justice upon themselves. At the stage in Dante’s earthly existence when he wanders off the right path, a type of indifference or lethargy has undermined his desire to do God’s will, as he doubts his religion. At the conclusion of the first canto, Dante agrees to go through the underworld with Virgil, and declares, “Let us start, for both our wills, joined now, are one” (II. 139). Although the poet Dante acknowledged the supremacy of God’s will, he also believed that human beings were blessed with their own free will. It is precisely because the inhabitants of hell deliberately set their own wills against that of God, that they have been sentenced to the ever-lasting torments of the Inferno. Moreover, if they had confessed and repented their sins while they were living, God would have extended redemption to them.
Alas, they are in hell because they abused their capacity to make moral choices. Near the poem’s start, Dante encounters two types of souls in the Ante-Inferno. The first group is comprised of those who were “.
. . neither faithful nor unfaithful to their God, / who undecided stood but for themselves” (III. 38-39). They are stung into constant motion and that is attributable to their failure to exercise their wills. The second group is comprised of sinners awaiting passage across the Acheron river, into hell. Virgil explains, “they want to cross the river, they are eager; / it is Divine Justice that spurs them on, / turning the fear they have into desire” (III.
124-126). They too are stung by divine justice; the sinners who will be consigned to various circles of hell go because of their own free will; they are drawn and eager to go to their punishment in the after life just as they deliberately chose to sin during their lives. These groups were not obedient to that of God’s will; God wills that we treat each other with the love he extends to us as individuals, reinforcing Christian doctrine.
Evil is evil simply because it contradicts God’s will.Virgil not only shows Dante the physical route through hell, but also reinforces its moral lessons; he displays unbiased judgment and emphasizes morality and divine justice. He represents human reason, and guides and protects Dante through the world of sin.
Aristotle praised the virtuous notion of moderation, and suggests that one should avoid extremes, and guide himself by reason. This Aristotelian philosophy is noted throughout the Inferno. One should acquire good character traits and perform virtuous acts, and our reason directs us to a course of such moderation. These moral virtues are at a mean between more extreme character traits, or vices.
Therefore, in order to be happy and good, one’s nature must be comprised of having virtues and lacking vices, avoiding excess and deficiency and seeking a middle ground. For example, in response to the natural emotion of fear, one should develop the virtuous character trait of courage. If one develops an excessive character trait by curbing fear too much, then that person is said to be rash, which is a vice. If, on the other extreme, one develops a deficient character trait by curbing fear too little, then one is said to be cowardly, which is also a vice. The virtue of courage, then, lies at the mean between the excessive extreme of rashness, and the deficient extreme of cowardice. Reason often calls for us to take sides on moral issues, however, Dante illustrates the extremity of moral demands that Christianity makes on human beings, who are perpetually fallible.
He reflects that the world beyond the present one, is, like reality, rational and orderly, and the poem allows us to view this certain, orderly world.Dante makes himself everyman, and the journey that God decreed through hell is one man’s personal transcendent journey from deep intellectual moral confusion to a sound and steadfast faith and hope, in which Dante renews his faith. Dante awakens our hope, and warns against moral complacency by peeling away the dangerous illusions of adequacy, leading one upward, toward the eternal heart of reality. Dante compels the reader to share his growing abhorrence of sin and his obligation to uphold God’s will. The poem’s purpose is to re-awaken Dante, and, by extension, the reader, to the reality of sin and the accompanying need for confession and repentance, to return to the straight path that leads to eternal salvation.