Sharon Portnoff depicts both the similarities and differences between Dante’s Inferno and Levi’s If This is Man, and emphasizes the reasons Levi uses Dante’s poem in order to convey his experience. She claims that “both Dante and Levi try to put into words what is not normative human experience- Dante’s journey to the afterlife, Levi’s sojourn in a death camp” and these allusions help deepen our understanding of the fundamental aspects of their experiences. Levi cannot find his own words to describe his experience and therefore he uses a work of literature to dramatize his experience. Dante’s inferno was well-suited because Dante travels to a Hell that lacks human companionship; just as Levi travels to a Hell just the same.
Portnoff points out “Levi’s use of Dante’s poem serves not only to compare the experiences of prisoner and pilgrim, but also to suggest their utter incommensurability”. Dante has the guidance of what is” beyond Hell”, because he is aware of God’s grace and Beatrice’s love, and this is what serves as his “connection to the human”. Levi, on the other hand, had no link to the “human” life and therefore had no way to travel beyond the scope of Hell. Furthermore; in Dante’s Hell the punishments are in unity with the “right order of things” while Levi experiences a Hell that is unfair and not in junction with the “right order of things”. Levi, in turn, was forsaken by not only the world, but also the “humanity of the world” that is depicted by Dante’s journey. Portnoff explains, “Dante survived his journey through Hell in order to teach others about the afterlife, the Nazi’s created a kingdom in which even those who survived cannot write”. Portnoff, in a way, believes it is better that we reveal these inhumane events so that “human” life can carry on. Because Levi encountered experiences beyond the scope of humanity; he depicted the resemblance to Dante’s journey to hell, which ultimately helped deepen the reader’s understanding of his experiences.
Bremrose, Stephen. “Intellections of Immortality in Dante”. Medium Aevum; (2005): 86-108. Academic Search Elite. EBSCOHost. Lindenwood University, St. Charles, MO, Butler Library, 1 November 2010 http://web.ebscohost.com (23 pages: cumulative pages-36)
Dante did not just merely believe in the afterlife, but he felt very strongly about the human soul’s immortality. Stephen Bremrose claims that the “true message, promise, and power of Christianity is focused for Dante on the afterlife and is the very essence of his religion” which had so much influence on his works. The question of the souls’ “post mortem” existence is a matter of deep conviction; enough to influence his treatment of heresy found in the sixth circle of hell in the Inferno. The question of immortality was so crucial that those who deny it were selected to represent the sin of heresy and focuses only on those who believe that the soul dies with the body.
According to Bremrose, Dante argues that our “dreams provide us with continual evidence of our immortality because of their divinatory properties” and the source of this “prophesy” must be outside the dreaming mind, and that something must be immortal. “Proportional similarity” does not exist between the mortal and immortal, and therefore souls, because they receive “prophetic illumination in dreams from an immortal source, must themselves be immortal”.
Dante also believed that “nature” has implanted the hope of an afterlife in the human mind- and the human mind alone, and “nature does nothing in vain”. Bremrose explains that “animals live throughout their lives without hope of anything to come; but humans, being the most perfect of all earthly creatures, can become immortal through their souls. Yet if our hope in immortality were in vain, then our “highest part; our reason, would be the source of our greatest defect, and the most perfect creatures would be, paradoxically, the most faulty”. Bremrose argues that humans alone can attain immortality through our souls; and this is depicted through our dreams and reason; and the importance of our post-motem survival was shown by Dante by depicting the sin of heresy as believing the soul dies with the body.
Wetzel, James. “A Meditation on Hell: Lessons From Dante”. Modern Theology; (2002): 375- 394. Academic Search Elite. EBSCOHost. Lindenwood University, St. Charles, MO, Butler Library, 1 November 2010. http://web.ebscohost.com (20 pages: cumulative pages- 56)
James Wetzel makes an argument that “it is illusionary to think that we can live by a distinction between who is redeemable and who is not and not fall into the very despair that makes a soul hell-bound”. Persons who do not believe in hell are susceptible to wish others there; while those who do believe often wish they did not have to; therefore making hell a concept that is just as hard to live with as it is do without.
Conforming Hell to a model of “retributive justice” makes Wetzel suspicious because he claims that all sin is not against people, but rather sin is against God. According to Wetzel; God, “by the logic of retribution, would have to be vulnerable to irredeemable harm” and because of this there would only be two kinds of hell- “the hell of having to hate others and the hell of having to hate oneself”.
Wetzel reasons against the libertarian view which suggests that self-determination, when carried out apart from God’s will, is how a human can end up in hell. These “defenders of the doctrine of hell” believe souls are in hell because it was ultimately their choice to be there. This, to Wetzel, is a way to take attention away from the contradictory natures of God, one of “gratuitous mercy and the other of strict justice” and instead believes that “human beings cannot be persons unless they have some power to determine the persons they become.” Wetzel discusses his alternative theology of hell and voiced his suspicions of conforming hell to a model of “retributive justice”; clarifying that in order to not fall into the hopelessness that makes a soul go to hell, one must not accept the illusion that we can live by a distinction between who is redeemable and who is not.
Taylor, Karla. “A Text and Its Afterlife: Dante and Chaucer”. Comparative Literature; (1983) 1- 20. Academic Search Premiere. EBSCOHost. Lindenwood University. St. Charles, MO, Butler Library. 1 November 2010. < http://web.ebscohost.com> ( 20 pages: cumulative pages- 76)
Literature is a major source of inspiration for literature. Karla Taylor examined how many readers reject authorial intent in order to determine moral worth and a way of making classical myths “useful” in Christianity. Pagan stories were often taken from their original context because the authors had no access to “Christian truth”. Virgil is the most famous poet whose poems have been reinterpreted. Taylor looks at the “afterlife” of Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue in which is said to be a “veiled version” of Christian beliefs in prophesizing Christ’s birth in which was not his intent, but the allegories transformed into Christian text. Furthermore, an important element in Dante’s Divina Commedia is the influence of texts and their afterlives. Dante’s relationship to Virgil is itself a textual encounter as well as in a major influence in the spiritual influence that lies behind the Commedia.
According to Taylor, Dante’s characters Paolo and Francesca “created an afterlife for the Lancelot romance by repeating it, and so won eternal damnation”; however, Paolo and Francesca themselves have had a significant textual afterlife. The fame of these characters is tied to how thoroughly their love was provoked by what they had read, and how they were in fact “victims” of the book of Lancelot and Guinevere. This can be compared to the character Tristan who argues that “love’s irresistibility absolves her of blame” just as Francesca tries to evade responsibility by claiming “love was conditioned by what she read”. As Gallehault had mediated between Lancelot and Guinevere, the Lancelot romance mediated between Paolo and Francesco; and just as Virgil had his Dido, Dante had his Francesca. Text transcends down through generations and is often taken out of the authorial intent, but the influence works have on future works can be seen through famous poets such as Virgil, Chaucer, and Dante.
Tolbot, Christian. “Infandum: Oral-Sadistic Imagery in Dante’s Inferno, Canto XXXIII”. Modern Psychoanalysis; (2005) 107-128. Academic Search Elite. EBSCOHost. Lindenwood University. St. Charles, MO, Butler Library. 1 November 2010. < http://web.ebscohost.com> (22 pages: cumulative- 98)
According to Christian Tolbot, “symbolic communications, parapraxis, a dream, and an enactment bring to light the unconscious origins and meanings of the cannibalistic behaviour of the main character, Count Ugolino”. One analysis of Ugolino’s cannibalism is a reference to the Eucharist; a symbol of cannibalism remade into Christian salvation. According to Christianity, the voice of God says to Augustine, “..Thou shalt feed upon me, like the food of thy flesh into thee, but thou shalt be converted into me’”. This idea is not only consistent with the episode that suggests the Eucharist; but it also explains the meaning behind Ugolino’s treatment of his children upon their deaths: the cannibalism serves as a mourning ritual. Tolbot suggests that by “incorporating the good embodied in his children it overpowers the intense feelings of grief” and also preserves their goodness; almost as if digesting an antidote.
Tolbot claims that Ugolino’s dream is actually the key to his “oral-sadistic character” as he fails to recognize the possibility that he may indeed be the “lord and master” from his dream; who sends his own hounds to hunt down and tear apart the family of wolves. The dream, as Tolbot suggests, may also shed light on Ugolino’s unconscious wish to attack the symbols of innocence and weakness-in both his sons and himself-which are the causes of this feeling of helplessness. Killing his children, and the weak version of himself in his mind, helps him escape the burden of responsibility. By doing so, Ugolino loses his human qualities which gives way to his “dehumanization”.
By cannibalizing his children, Ugolino guarantees that he will forever be forced to repeat his desire in the lowest circle of Hell. There, he is literally frozen in place, unable to make new choices; symbolizing his inner torture. His punishment also reflect the other sinners in the Inferno: who fail to understand the “unconscious dynamics” driving them to sin which, in turn, result in their eternal damnation. Symbolism, dreams, and an enactment explain the unconscious origins of the cannibalistic behavior shown by Count Ogolino in the Inferno.
Chevigny, Paul. “From Betrayal to Violence: Dante’s Inferno and the Social Construction of Crime”. Law & Social Inquiry. (2001): 787. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOHost. Lindenwood University. St. Charles, MO, Butler Library. 1 November 2010. < http://web.ebscohost.com> (32 pages: cumulative- 130)
Dante’s views regarding crime have origins in ethical concerns, social and political settings, and the laws of crimes that surrounded him; the three same interrelated concerns – philosophical, socio-political, and legal- help govern contemporary doctrines today. As Dante descended through Hell each of the different levels were seen to grade crimes with penalties in proportion to the magnitude.
Dante’s classifications, according to Chevigny, were based upon “medieval theology and philosophy about ethics” while doctrines today are “based on the notion of desert, or deserved punishments equivalent to the blameworthiness of the criminal conduct”.
Dante found betrayal of trust as the most deserving of punishment; while contemporary law has found crimes of violence to be the most severe. As Chevigny explains, the Inferno points out sin as opposed to crime; and this Christian foundation of political obligation has been replaced in today’s world with “the protection of the rights of individuals”. To Dante, the breach of faith often shaped the severity of the crimes being committed. Betrayal was the most severe in Dante’s time because it was the most premeditated demonstration of free will.
Dronke, Peter. “Francesca and HéloÃ¯se”. Comparative Literature (1975):113. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOHost. Lindenwood University. St. Charles, MO, Butler Library. 1 Nomember 2010. < http://web.ebscohost.com> (23 pages: cumulative-153)
Peter Dronke categorizes the debaters of the passion between Francesca and Paolo into two broad groups:” the hawks and the doves”. Dronke argues in favor of the “doves”; however, believes the opposed conceptions of Francesca as being a “fragile flower” and “a demon of lasciviousness” are figments of the same condescending view of women; one in which the creator of Francesca could not have shared. In Dronke’s mind, Dante recreated the ambivalence of the romance in the love portrayed in the Lancelot story with “feeling so intense that words cannot convey them”. Instead of implying Francesca was giving a deliberate untruthful account in not mentioning that it was indeed Guinevere who initiated the kiss between her and Lancelot; Dronke believes she left that detail out in order to “stress the beauty of the experience itself”.
Dronke takes the side of the “doves of Romanticism” because the first allusion between Paolo and Francesca shows that they are inseparable- a fact that sets them apart from all lovers mentioned up to this point, including the lovers Paris and Helen. These lovers are undivided in love forever; and yet they are forever cut off from “divine love” and are among the lost ones due to the “metaphysics of justice” in which structures the whole Commedia. Francesca was also the first soul Dante encountered in hell and was the only soul in the whole Commedia who is asked to retrace the events that led to her fall. Francesca’s “Amor” speech was interpreted by Dronke as being a defense of Amor; a justification of her love. Even though there is recognition of guilt; there is no regret for the love that ultimately led to the guilt.
Dronke points out a parallelism between the lovers in Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rosa and the lovers Paolo and Francesca. Heloise from Roman de la Rosa gives a speech defending the love she knew was wrong in heaven’s eyes and had been liable for the loss of her friendship with God. What separates Francesca from the heroines of courtly romance is exactly what she has in common with Heloise; a rhetorical argument defending nobility of love she knows in God’s judgement to be guilty.