Ala porta dell’inferno (At Hell’s Gate)

Major*, Prepared and presented by

Kapil R. Tripathy

In the midway of this our mortal life
I found me in a gloomy woody, astray

“Here pity only lives when it is dead.”


At a time when most people dreamt of Paradise, the famous Italian poet Dante Alighieri took a detour and found himself ‘lost’ (in a poetic sense) in the melancholic fires of the Inferno instead. A poem that has continued to inspire generations of artists and philosophers alike, Dante’s Divine Comedy is a 12-year journey consisting of 3 parts, 100 cantos in total and over 14,000 lines. It remains one of the longest and one of the most highly appreciated Italian epics in history.

It begins at the middle of Dante’s life, as Dante finds himself at the edge of a deep forest, and is confronted with three deadly beasts. A Leopard, signifying lust and beauty; a Lion, with its prideful roar and finally a wolf, hungry for power and gain, all three pushing the poet further into the velvety dark forest. Dante, alas, finds himself lost. If now we assume that the ‘velvety dark forest’ is a metaphor for life, we wouldn’t be wrong, for The Divine Comedy is more about life and it’s consequences than about death. But alas, even in this terrible place hope is not lost ……

“Finding an old friend

is like

Finding a treasure”

Dante finds Virgil or atleast the soul of Virgil. Virgil was an ancient Roman poet who becomes his teacher and author, his companion and guide through Inferno and Purgatorio. And so begins the journey of the duo from the dark forest to the burning hell.

“Out of the frying pan

and into the fire

Inferno, thought Dante, was over exaggerated in the Bible, so he ‘simplified’ it to nine rings (and some sub-rings) laying a path through fiery roads of judgement and punishment, all the while revealing it’s architectural magnificence, that beams with culture and metaphors even to this day.

Structure of Inferno as described by Dante

The first circle, ‘Limbo‘, was reserved for the souls of unbaptized children. Here, Dante finds Aristotle and Julius Caesar, both being born before Christ. They grieve for they will live eternally without God’s grace.

Then came the circle for those who could not control their bodily desires. ‘Lust’ was populated by figures like Cleopatra, who were thrown into a violent storm as their punishment. Neither in life nor in death could they control their bodies.

Those who could not be satisfied with food and who would always looked for more, landed at the next circle, ‘Gluttony’. Lying in dirt, slime and their own filth, those who took comfort in food and warmth now stay cold, eternally.

Clergymen, including cardinals and popes, were the ones who populated the next circle, as, in the eyes of the poet, they were the ones who lavishly spent all the possessions that they so forcefully hoarded. This was the circle of ‘Greed’. Such souls were punished to move weights, equal to their wealth, in either of the direction depending on whether they hoarded or spent.

Love is divine; and sins committed in the name of love are much less sinister than those committed without it. Hence, Anger’, not being derived from obsessive love like lust, greed or gluttony, is far more sinister, with sinners being punished eternally to bite, scratch and fight each other.

In the 14th century when democracy was a fairy tale, the King and the churches were the most powerful influence and rejecting or ignoring them was nothing short of a crime. So those turning a blind eye to ‘King and God’ landed at, Heresy.

6th Circle of Hell, Heresy

These violent delights have violent ends. And hence those who have been violent in their lives find themselves in the 7th circle, Violence. However, this ring is divided into sub-rings.

While the first ring is reserved for those who are violent against people and property, the second and third are reserved for those who commit suicide and destroy nature, respectively.

Fraud‘, the 8th and second last circle, according to Dante is the second-worst sin for here are punished the people who consciously fooled the innocent for selfish results. Astrologers, seers, are all made to walk backwards, without ever being able to see what lay ahead, a punishment quite worthy of the sin.

8th Circle of the Inferno, Fraud

The final circle, Treachery. For this was the gravest sin of all, and here lived the Satan, at the centre, punished for his betrayal of God, where from originated all sin. Another reason why Dante considers treachery as the most severe sin may reason out from his personal experience with it. Here Satan is depicted as a three-headed beast with six wings and each head gnawing on Cassius Brutus and of course Judas Iscariot whose betrayal towards Jesus is probably the most highlighted sin in the entire poem.

The final ring.
The Three Faced Satan.

Dante who was a statesman and soldier and a true believer of God, felt that the Roman Catholic Church committed treachery against Him by being corrupt and power hungry. Thus, Inferno was not just meant as a spiritual journey beyond death, it was also a subtle commentary on contemporary Italian politics, originating from Dante’s personal views.

Yet this is only part one of the three part epic The Divine Comedy. Purged from their sins in Purgatorio, every soul shall eventually rise to Paradiso and just like Dante.

“Do not be afraid; our fate
Cannot be taken from us;

It is a gift”

-Dante Alighieri
In all ways, our paths lead to God

*Major is a form of internal that takes place in the poetry club meetings where a presenter, randomly chosen, chooses a topic of his/her interest and presents to the rest of the club members in and around 25 mins. Minor is another very similar form of internal different only in duration which may extend to 15 mins. Poetry is not just about writing poems and reciting them it’s much more than that. It’s about deciphering the past, observing the present and unlocking the future. The concept of Major and Minor aims just that, an all round view.

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