The Inferno: The Interpretation of Sin
Dante’s poem mainly focuses on hell as a place of punishment. In this place, people are being punished for the sins they committed while they were alive. However, each sin has its own punishment. Through the poem, Dante shows that hell is a continuation of what took place on earth. One has to suffer the consequences of his/her actions. The fairness that is advocated here on earth is also advocated in the life after death. This is illustrated by the different punishments given to different sins. From a critical angle, sin has been interpreted differently in this poem. In the poem, Dante interprets sin as the path he lost in the dark forest.
At the beginning of the inferno, the reader finds out that Dante had lost his way when he wandered into the dark and tangled valley. Here he encounters the three beasts, which were the she-wolf, the lion and the leopard. He also encountered the spirit of the great poet Vigil. Vigil acts as a guide to hell, taking Dante through the different levels of hell naming the sins appropriate for each level.
In this part, Dante shows us what happens to people who loose their way in life. They end up in hell. In a real life situation, they end up sinning. If he had stuck to the right or the true path, Dante would have not wandered into the dark valley and neither would he have landed on the path to hell. Staying on the right path would have taken him to the right destination.
In this case, people stray from the right path of doing good things and end up taking another path, which leads them to evil. As Dante takes us through different characters that “lost” their way, one understands the connection between direction and sin.
In the Christian religion, one is said to have “strayed from the true path” when the people want to portray ones sins. Such acts as adultery, fornication, murder and fraud, amongst others, are considered as the “wrong path”. Most of the characters suffering in hell were not evil since birth. Neither were they evil all their adult life. The sins that made them to go to hell were committed only once.
In the fifth Canto, Francesca relates the story of how lust made her sin thus ending up in hell. Francesca had been true and faithful to her old and deformed husband all her life. Unfortunately, she fell in love with her husband’s younger brother by the name Paolo da Rimmi. This secret love led to their transgression (kissing) after reading an old book about love. Both lovers were killed by Francesca’s husband. Both lovers were in the second level of hell. In this situation, Francesca lost her way when she fell in love with Paolo. This way landed her into the sins of infidelity, which led to her death.
As Dante goes deeper into the circle, he finds out that there are people who lost their way even though the other people did not recognize it. For example, in the seventh Canto, Dante Vigil encounter the people who squandered horded their money when they were alive. Most of the people in this circle are the popes, the prodigal, the Avaricious, the cardinals, corrupt clergymen, just to mention but a few. These people were entrusted with wealth but they lost their way and used it inappropriately. Most of these people were not evil when they were entrusted with wealth. They became greedy at some point when they were still in their respective positions. In other words, they lost their true calling and allowed greed to take over their ambitions.
In the beginning of this reading, Danted states that he did not know how he lost his true path. He just noticed that he was in a dark and tangled valley. In the same way, most of the sinners in hell did not realize that they were sinning or loosing their way. Francesca and Paolo had not planned to kiss when they started reading the book. They were just in love at the time but the kiss led to their death. Most of the clergymen and the popes in the fourth circle had not planned to misuse the wealth that was entrusted to them. They lost their “true path” when they let greed control their actions.
Since Dante is alive during this experience, it is symbolic that there is hope of finding or going back to the right path if he wishes to do so. The souls suffering in hell did not ask for repentance and neither did they feel sorry for what they did before the time of their death. This is why they are in so much suffering. Dante did not tern back to look for the right path once he realized that he had lost his way. His curiosity led him deeper into the dark valley thus leading him to the mouth of hello. In the same way, the souls suffering in hell did not turn back when they realized they were on the wrong path the right path. Their greed and misled character led them deeper into sin.
Dante shows that sin starts by one loosing the “true path”. Whether it is in life matters or religious matters, if one fails to find the right path (turn away from evil), he/she will pay for his actions both on earth and in heaven. One of the souls suffering in the third heaven asked Dante to remember him when he returned to earth. This symbolized that it might be too late to turn to the right path. One should stop sinning and repent when there is still time.