Analysis of Dante's "The Inferno"

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In a masterpiece poem, “The Inferno,” Dante Alighieri outlines the penalties individuals face for their sins. Dante emphasizes Contrapasso as the ultimate rule applicable to hell. The rule stipulates a commensurate punishment for every sinful act. This paper presents a succinct analysis of penalties to different sins as outlined in Dante’s “The Inferno.”

Three Major Sins in Hell

The three major sins in hell are treachery, violence, and fraud. Sinners who commit these offences are found near the centre of hell because of the gravity of their sins.

Governing Principles of Hell and Rules of Punishment

Sinners are punished in hell in a manner that is befitting of their crimes. The punishment meted to the sinner matches the level of wickedness of the crime committed to what represents poetic justice (Alighieri 30). The punishments given are perceived as destinies chosen by every soul because those who seek forgiveness before their deaths are not found in hell but in purgatory.

Examples of Sinners

Paolo and Francesca are an illustration of what takes place when contrapasso is applied. They commit the sin of lust when they engage in an adulterous affair. They are unable to control their feelings and succumb to the desires of the flesh. Their actions are solely motivated by desire. The carnal malefactors are condemned to hell because they permitted their appetites to control reason. A violent storm causes a whirlwind that move their souls back and forth. The punishment matches their actions. The constant swaying represents their inability to control their desires as they let their canal desires get the better of them. The violent winds, therefore, symbolize the power that lust had over them. Paolo and Francesca’s souls are blown needlessly and aimlessly in the same way they were controlled by their desires. Dante writes that in the same way that the lovers were driven and swayed by their passions, the violent winds will ensure that they remain adrift forever. Punishment given to the two lovers helps to show lust for what it is; a loud darkness of discomfort accompanied by helplessness. It is no longer the thrilling pursuit that the lovers thought that it was while they were still alive.

Lust, however, is punished in the second circle because it is not entirely a self-centred sin. It implies sinners were not merely driven by the desire to satisfy their own wants but also those of others. Paolo, by engaging in an affair with Francesca, did not only focus on his own needs but also on the needs of his lover. In a way, sinners of the flesh still manage to display some important human virtues. The sin of lust involves mutual indulgence and is, therefore, punished in the most benign way. It is one of the least heinous crimes, and thus falls within the second circle of sin.


The case of Paolo and Francesca indicate that the application of the contrapasso was purely centred on justice. A sinner is not punished beyond the level of wickedness of the crime committed. The case also shows that all sins are not equal and, therefore, the least heinous crimes are punished in the least severe manner while the most heinous crimes are also punished accordingly. The contrapasso also recognizes the good done by sinners while they were still alive as shown by the consideration of lust as a sin that is not entirely self-centered.

Works Cited

Alighieri, Dante. Dante's Inferno: The Vision of Hell from The Divine Comedy. First Avenue Editions, 2015. Print.

November 24, 2023



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