Divine Comedy-I: Inferno

Contrapasso in the Inferno

Instead of leaving all of Inferno's sinners to burn in the traditional flames of Hell, Dante successfully uses contrapasso to build a world with unique psychological depth, and therefore a deeper potential for suffering. Contrapasso distinguishes each sinner by making his or her punishment uniquely appropriate to the sin so that every soul in Inferno inhabits an individual Hell of different thoughts, desires, and pains. As Dante moves into Purgatorio and Paradisio and still sees distinctions between souls according to their Earthly characteristics, it is tempting to say that contrapasso continues to define a soul's existence throughout the Comedy. But though contrapasso works so brilliantly in Inferno, Dante does not use this technique of separation as a central theme when building an effective Purgatorio and Paradisio. This shift away from the human isolation of contrapasso and towards a unity of desire and purpose helps Dante create a vision of Purgatorio and Paradisio both uniquely peaceful and awe-inspiring.

The effectiveness of contrapasso in punishing Inferno's sinners is apparent in the isolated position of Master Adam, for whom contrapasso creates an individual world unique to his sin. Dante meets Adam, a...

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